The scary thing about this public mourning is that it’s revealed how crippled and stunted our culture is. All this triviality and pornographic display of sentiment, it’s almost become a sort of fun social event. I’ve never seen our society look so intently at itself, and do mostly nothing but slobber uselessly.
I thought in the immediate fallout that all we needed was some balanced accounts cautioning against either condemnation or deification, some gestures towards “objectivity”; and of course all we have now is an orgy of sentiment for an idea– patriotism in some parts, an elderly romance in others, heroism, fatherhood, God’s Will. All of them fragments.
People have become “fans” of LKY who would otherwise never have thought about him, and who would never confront the ugliness of his politics. And even if they would, that’d be “unpatriotic,” or subsumed under a bigger story about material comfort, clean streets and shiny buildings.
His legacy is censorship, and even now he’s censoring us.
We don’t have the mechanisms in place to have a proper conversation about this. And we say, ‘not now, too soon’, but where, honestly, do we expect this space for a fair reckoning to form? When will the time come? Have we forgotten the silence built into our political culture, our civic life, our daily lives? The order to “move on” from wrongdoing? And that it’s to his leadership that we can attribute this silence? Until recently you couldn’t utter his name on stage without audible gasps from the audience, and in a perverse fashion we’ve come full circle.
You say “let history judge the man” as if we don’t breathe history, as if we’re not living in a world stained by history, as if we don’t wade through history every day.
He wasn’t “just a man”, his interiority is irrelevant. He was a public figure. He was a powerful man. When he was in power he affected people’s lives and livelihoods, and he exercised that power for longer than most. His power had consequences we feel today. And even as his government made life better for a lot of people, it really destroyed some others.
So his life and image and reputation are not his own. Clearly, they are not just matters for private mourning. They are artifacts for public discussion. But thanks to his legacy, our public is a wretched space where we don’t even have the means to express the complexity of this moment. It’s just tributes and buns and impressions of sadness. We have so much to do, so much to undo, but we can’t even begin to speak.