Historical Misdirection is the Human Condition

clyde-linsleyClyde Linsley was born 1942 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1960 (at the height of the desegregation controversy). Linsley attended Little Rock University (one year), then transferred to the University of Missouri. There, he received a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1964. That was followed by two years of graduate study in theology and social ethics at Colgate Rochester Divinity School where he didn’t get a degree but gained interesting knowledge and significant expenses and considered it worth every penny.

When asked what inspires his writing, Clyde quotes a favorite writer:

“William Faulkner wrote that the past isn’t irrelevant, and that it is “not even past.” As a Southerner who has lived most of his adult life in the east, I keep finding the past encroaching on the present, wherever I go. If there is a single theme to my books, it’s probably that what happens tomorrow is directly related to what happened yesterday. Europeans are probably more aware of this, because they have so much more history, but it’s just as true on this side of the pond.”

Most of his stories have echoes from the past.

After school, he worked on state and national political campaigns, two presidential inaugurations, and wrote radio news for a small New Hampshire broadcaster. He was also a reporter for a (now defunct) daily newspaper, a freelance writer and a mystery novelist. Clyde is married with three offspring (now adults) and lives with his wife in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.


“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Those words were uttered by one of the wisest philosophers America has ever produced (in my opinion) and certainly America’s most erudite marsupial: Pogo Possum.

Pogo was, for many years, a staple of American newspapers; he had his own comic strip, which was widely read, daily and Sunday. I was an eager and avid student of Pogo, following his adventures in detail – his campaigns for the Presidency, his dealings with the wildcat named Simple J. Malarkey (who closely resembled a certain Congressman from Wisconsin – I forget his name), and the other denizens of the Pogofenokee Swamp, which was in Georgia, or Florida, or somewhere. Pogo could mangle language with the best of them, but he was also a wise philosopher and an astute observer of human folly.  Of his bombastic friend, Albert, the Alligator, for example, Pogo wisely noted that “Albert lives a life of noisy desperation.”

Alas, Pogo has left us. I suppose the demise of his friend and creator, cartoonist Walt Kelly, affected him as much as it did me. It’s a shame. I miss them both terribly.

That wasn’t what I intended to write about, precisely, but Pogo came to mind when I began thinking about my topic: “historical misdirection.” It’s a term my professor coined many years ago for a class on “Christian Social Ethics,” to describe the ways in which good intentions could go awry. The longer I live, and the more I think about the phrase, the more relevant the term seems to become.

I didn’t think so when I first encountered the term, back in my grad school days. In fact, I turned out a piece of doggerel verse intended to be sung to a tune from “The Sound of Music,” which was quite popular among the malcontents in my class:

“How do we cure historical misdirection?

“How do we find the way to set us free?

“How do we know when history needs correction?

“With socioethical epistemology . . .”

And so on.

I was much younger, then, and (if possible) even more naïve, but the concept of historical misdirection doesn’t seem so silly, any more. Rather, the term seems to describe a common characteristic of the human race, one with which we have all become too familiar.

Historical misdirection. We muddle through life, fixing things that go bad, never noticing that our “fixes” often create new problems, which we must then “fix,” as well. And those fixes lead to more problems, which require more fixes. Which then lead to more problems.

My latest novel, Old River, deals with this dilemma. The idea came to me when a friend told me one day that the Mississippi River had changed course not long ago, and its new course would take it many miles away from New Orleans. This was a problem. Further, he said, the course change had resulted because of human efforts to improve river navigation. Correcting the problem would require even more human intervention and might well create new problems.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for maintaining navigation on inland waters, took immediate steps to rectify the course change situation and keep the river in its place. But will it last? The Corps’ solution requires continual maintenance, and that’s something human beings have not been noted for. Sooner or later, people grow tired, or careless, and things begin to slip away.

old-riverThere’s a word for this; entropy: the tendency of nature to revert to its previous state.

In this case, “entropy” would mean the loss of a multi-million-dollar shipping industry, the destruction of a flourishing tourism industry, and the loss of drinking water for nearly a million people. Since people can’t survive without water, all South Louisiana might be doomed.

Historical misdirection, indeed. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Pogo was wiser than he knew.

I didn’t let this catastrophe happen in my book; I didn’t have the heart for it; I’m a New Orleans fan from way back. Not to mention a lover of jazz, beignets and barbecued shrimp, all of which we would lose if the Mississippi River moved away.

But my book is fiction. Will it happen in real life?

I don’t know if it will happen, but  it may. It’s possible. I’ve got my fingers crossed. If you share my concern, you might want to cross your fingers, too.


4 thoughts on “Historical Misdirection is the Human Condition

  1. This was a fabulous blog. THANK YOU. I remember Pogo and even have a book of collected messages from him. (I can’t call them cartoons!) Another strip I miss–Calvin and Hobbs. More wisdom from our “Funnies” page. Probably less offensive because they are supposed to be cartoons.


  2. I applaud you, Clyde, for this splendid, profound essay; it’s been a long time since I’ve read a piece so well written and filled with passion and willing to take rhetorical risks. I also adore William Faulkner. This is amazing and thank you for bringing this op-ed to your blog, Lelia.


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