[A disclaimer: To be clear, the comparison being drawn here is between the shocking abruptness of the removal of people from photographs and the shocking abruptness of the removal of blog posts. At no time did I believe, nor do I believe, that Nate Oman imprisoned intellectuals and political opponents in Siberia in winter in order to let them starve to death. Nor do I believe Wilfried engineered an artificial famine that led to the deaths of 6-7 million Ukrainians. Finally, I don’t believe that Adam or Kaimi killed their closest advisors in a paranoid frenzy (although, has anyone seen Jim F or Greg Call lately?). Please don’t engaging in Stalinizing the nice folks at T&S (who hopefully know me well enough to understand that such was not my intent)]
I do not lightly make fun of another’s plight, but the thought struck me that recent doings over at some other blog reminded me of photography in the Stalinist period of the Soviet Union. As people fell into and out of grace, they appeared in and then disappeared from the official photos of the Communist Party. The purpose was to recompose history in order to re-establish the dominant themes of progress and prosperity under Stalin (or, more sinisterly, to emphasis that no figure, no matter how prominent, is safe from removal). People were removed from photos to prevent inconvienient and hard to answer questions from popping up in the future.
It is a truism that nothing stays buried forever and the photographs have been collected in all their glory and shifting status by a man named David King. He published a book a few years ago, called The Commissar Vanishes, that gives, in explicit detail, the history of some of these photographs and the figures that appear (and then disappear) in them (here is a website established that also discusses it). It makes for good reading and, interestingly, good comedy. The editing, though usually skillfully done, is also ham-fisted. The reasoning behind someone’s disappearance often makes little sense. There is a famous photograph were Stalin is smiling and holding up a cheerful little girl. The rest of the story is that Stalin had that little girl’s father killed and also, very likely, killed her mother. But my, doesn’t he look grandfatherly in that photo?
On my mission, I knew many babushki (ie. old, hunched-over women in kerchiefs who were poor, poor, poor and carried around with them the moral authority of a long, oppressed, painful, and often-times horrible life). Many of them spoke to me about how much better times were under Stalin. There wasn’t this crime in the streets. There were no Mafia. I didn’t doubt them (Stalin was never particularly nice to criminals he didn’t like), but I wondered why they didn’t mention the people disappearing around them. There isn’t much motivation to engage in criminality when all it takes to be taken and tortured is to write a theater review or a poem.
To a great degree, those recent events at this other blog reminded me of all this because the removal of the offending threads is so obvious. They were here yesterday and today have mysteriously vanished into the ether. Except, of course, that there were reasons behind the vanishing and, while only the local admins know them, we are familiar enough with what went on to speculate. Part of the question, then, is should we?
One of the side effects of repentance is that the Lord promises that he will remember our sins no more. Sometimes, even when repentant, we believe that others should abide by this same policy. While the Lord is sure to do as he has promised, other people have made no such promise and, if they choose to ignore or forget your failings, it is due to their good will, not your humble intent. The sinner is not owed absolution from humanity, although we are sometimes lucky enough to get it. Sure, all are commanded to forgive, but we all accept limits on the forgetfulness associated. Sometimes repentance and forgiveness is only possible when the desire to have the sin erased from memory is set aside. After all, we are meant to learn from our mistakes.
That said, if the desire to forget our failings is inherently bad (or, at least, often unhelpful), then the ability to lay aside our knowledge of other’s faults is proportionally good. To point at the faults of other is inherently prideful and petty, not just because we seek to justify ourselves but because it is so easy to do. If we constantly point out that our attackers are not without sin, we forget the lesson of sin, which is that we need to change. Sure, our attackers need to change, too, but WE need to change. This fact doesn’t change and it should always be our first priority.
I don’t have any moral authority to write this post. I have removed one post, in my time, from circulation for reasons that I continue to consider beneath me (mostly fear). The post that I am actually most embarassed about remains available for reasons that I consider beneath me (mostly pride). While there is something to the blogging ideal of leaving everything up, warts and all, I can’t think of a good reason for it. If we believe in repentance, which is functionally the manner in which we are rebuilt to become more like Christ and Father in Heaven, we should allow others the option of rearranging themselves however they see fit. However, there is a limit on our ability to rearrange; we cannot change the past and the interactions we witnessed and participated in whilst in the past. No photographic or blogging erasure can change that. If we rearrange, I do believe it best to acknowledge the faults of the past and present (and probably the future). That said, we should all always focus on the best that is and that is to come within ourselves and others. No good comes from a constant rehearsal of the slights, sins, atrocities, and paper cuts of the past.