Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Misused Medievalism

I have a new piece at The Guardian on Carly Fiorina. She has a BA in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford in the 70s and has been claiming that it will help her fight ISIS. I write:
Last Sunday, the Republican presidential candidate tried to burnish her national security credentials by claiming that her bachelor’s degree prepared her to fight Isis. She said: “Finally my degree in medieval history and philosophy has come in handy, because what Isis wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally”.
I’d like to state unequivocally that my years of training to become a professor of medieval history in no way make me fit to be appointed commander-in-chief of the US military. While the Middle Ages do in fact shape contemporary events all the time, Fiorina unfortunately almost always gets the lessons of history wrong.
When we use the word “medieval” to characterize something we don’t like, be it Isis, the Ferguson Police department or Russia’s driver’s license regulations, we are trying to impose chronological distance between ourselves and things we find unpleasant. Thinking of these distasteful or evil aspects of the modern world as belonging to the past makes it harder, not easier, to understand their root causes and fight them.
I write about the mis-appellation of "medieval" frequently, as the imposition of chronological alterity seems to be a problem leading to all kinds of confusion, denial of responsibility, and sometimes wrong action.

Some examples from the blog.

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