Wednesday, March 23, 2011

History Part II

If one were to look at history as a whole without any preconceived notions or ideas, my assumption would be that the observer would come to one conclusion: Human beings are an incoherent mess with a propensity toward self-destruction. A morass of chaos and insanity that has no point and no goal. Attempting to draw a narrative or progression from history would only lead one to madness.

Yet almost precisely the opposite happens. Almost to a man history not only has lessons for us but conveniently enough it confirms my particular viewpoint, and yours, and a variety of others such as PHDs (but they are always wrong, that's why we label them with PHD. It's a warning label). In fact the more one stands to benefit materially from one's perspective of history the more likely one is hideously wrong. But that is a subject for another day.

But one thing we all agree on implicitly, that history has something to teach us. It is a remarkable axiom given the chaos that is human history. Regardless of religious, philosophical, cultural, or ethnic background we assume that looking at the successes and failures of our forebears has some sort of transcendent value. Something to teach us, even if the only lesson is "whatever we did, do the opposite." I do not hold this as the only lesson history can teach us. Mostly for selfish reasons. I would hate to think future generations would look upon myself and think, "What an oaf!" Not that they would be wrong, but I am counting on the passage of time to muddy the waters of memory a bit. And it would be such a waste of time if my history was obscured only to have the future oafs assume I was one with no evidence anyway.

In any event it is almost taken for granted that history has something to teach us. Yet it seems very often that rather we have something to impart to history. Meaning. Shockingly, even atheists who insist that there is no meaning in any objective sense insist that history shows such truths as religion is the root of all evil and there were no scientists before Darwin.

What exactly is going on here? Why attach such profound importance to yesterday's news? In order to understand this I think the best way to start to answer the question is to move away from history into another realm entirely. One which "sensible" people laugh and cough with mild embarrassment when asked to take it seriously (and which the aforementioned PHDs regard with disdain).


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