Perspective seven score and ten


The advantage of fresh perspective is that we may be permitted to see something in a more accurate light. Free from the passions of the moment, we may calmly reflect on the broader context and meaning of something. On small matters that perspective might come in a few seconds. On more weighty matters we might well take our jaundiced eye right to the grave.

When complex social institutions get involved, the time required for the proper perspective to accrue could well eclipse the lives of those who needed it the most. Such is the case for the Patriot & Union, an ancestor of Harrisburg, Pa.’s current daily newspaper, the Patriot News. Seems the editor way back in 1863 took a dim view of President Abraham Lincoln’s now-storied Gettysburg Address.

According to CNN.com, the editors of the Patriot & Union newspaper thought so little of Lincoln’s “silly remarks” that they hoped “the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more reposted or thought of.”

This week, the editors of that paper published a retraction: “The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record — but we must do as conscience demands. In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.”

It would easy enough to pass off the 19th century editors’ lack of appreciation as just one of history’s little missteps. Across the annals of time, it hardly even merits the ink necessary to catalog it. Still, it’s refreshing to see people trouble to make something right.

In this case, there’s no one living against whom such a slight would intrude. In an age when movies like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter presents a fictionalized counter-factual history of the 16th president as a man driven to vengefully extinguish the undead, a dusty and forgotten errant grousing hardly moves the needle.

The eccentric filmmaker, Tim Burton, once quipped: “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”

In this incisive observation, Burton succinctly identifies the heart of perspective. We are all individuals. We are all unique. Therefore the lens we bring to the world is similarly unique and individualized.

In a society that presently values so much exposition and has developed tools to magnify both the boundless ramble of the culturally marginal and the pedantry of the middle, the struggle for perspective becomes much more complicated.

Only a couple of decades ago, news was a thing delivered in the morning paper, on three or four television channels and a handful of radio stations. Now it is an incessant crawl of 24-hour narration and commentary. Arguably we have gone from a time of mostly signal to mostly noise masquerading as signal.

Of course, therein lies the rub. As chagrined as those hoping for an objective may be, the fact of it is that we cannot now know the true picture of our present selves. We too, lack perspective. We are mired in the emotion and apparent reality of the moment. We wonder what this time will look like to our editors a 150 years hence.