The Right Coast

April 05, 2004
On the Virtue (and Vice) of Forgetfulness Part 2
By Gail Heriot

Both Steve Bainbridge and Steve Sturm commented on my earlier posting on forgetting. I agree with Bainbridge that forgiving is a better policy than forgetting. The only problem is that I'm not sure that the human species is very good at the former without the latter. And although our forgetfulness has gotten us into trouble in recent years, it's worth pointing out that it has its good side too.

I also agree with Sturm that American success has a lot to do with American forgetfulness. But I don't think it's the whole story. The North's defeat of the South in the American Civi War was both more recent and more cataclysmic than the defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham. (And Sturm is right that American Southerners took their loss a lot harder than American Northerners.) But I can't imagine Georgia having a "We remember" motto on its license plate like Quebec's.

Another factor that I think accounts for part of American forgetfulness is a stronger policy of assimilation. European immigrants have tended to shed their prejudices once they arrived in this country in large part becauase they were expected to. Gentile vs. Jew, English vs. Irish, Serb vs. Croatian: It all seems less important in a world in which we are striving to create something in common with each other.

Hmmm ...I had something more to say, but I've forgotten it ....