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Past is Prologue

So Sarah Palin coughed up another gob of the ignorance and inarticulacy for which she is infamous, roughly suggesting that Paul Revere ran ringing a bell at the British troops to warn them that they wouldn’t take our guns, so there. Insofar as her half-formed sentences have meaning at all, they were false and foolish. Coming from Palin, that isn’t news.

Held to task even on Fox “news” for her gaffe, Palin decided to go for broke. Rather than admitting she’d gotten tongue-tied, she insists that she was right all along. A barefaced denial of documented fact. Again, coming from Palin, that isn’t news.

Revelations that Palin’s supporters, or party operatives if you’re feeling paranoid—there’s no way to tell which—are engaged in a concerted attempt to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to match, retroactively, Palin’s blithering may qualify as news. I suppose it’s the natural progression from right-wing revisionist history and organized efforts to flood targeted sites with right-wing messaging, but positively fabricating the historical record is still a step up from wildly inaccurate speculation upon and misinterpretation of history, and the baldly Orwellian nature of the attempt still comes as a surprise.

Literally Orwellian. Orwell was aghast at the Stalinist technique of rewriting historical documents and even doctoring photographs to match the political narrative of the moment; he merely extrapolated from isolated incidents to continual, industrial-scale revision of the historical record to form the premise of 1984. “Oceania is now at war with Eastasia! Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia!” Palin’s supporters differ from Stalin’s only in that the impetus to distort the historical record grows from the ground up, rather than being directed from the top down. They differ from Orwell’s Ingsoc party not at all, from the formless hatred to the doublethink upon which such revision depends to the self-motivating nature of that delusion.

Happily, responsible parties spotted the effort and have frozen the page until order can be restored. Less happily, Wikipedia’s open door policy will make it impossible in the long run to keep fantasy posing as fact from the page; claims that Revere did warn the British the colonists would resist will eventually appear with, at most, a polite “such assertions remain controversial” or “documentation for the claim is slight.” Part of the price of free speech is that some of it will be wrong; the information age makes it possible to be wrong on previously unimaginable scale.

But by god, if you didn’t already know not to rely on Wikipedia for your history assignments before, you know it now!

Postscript: This Longfellow revision beat me to the punch. Worth a chuckle.

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