Sunday, April 24, 2005

Same As It Ever Was

Over the past few days I spent some time watching historical programs. Although I tend to do this frequently, for some reason this weekend started some different thought processes flowing. The shows I watched were not shows covering near history like our recent wars, but real ancient history covering things such as the Roman Empire and Biblical history.

One thought I had, which is really a “duh” moment when you stop to think about it, is that history is basically recorded by whoever is in power at the time. A great example of this is a religious group that destroys any documents that don’t agree with their philosophy.

Historically this has been done by destroying all documents that don’t follow something like the Bible, or by burning books that have objectionable material, or by going so far as to rewriting history to change events into a favorable position of the rulers of the time. We have seen ruling governments control all information within their reach, or religious groups who demand the devotion of their followers to memorize religious stories created by the leaders until the belief is ingrained within their faith.

It’s interesting that some think that by merely repeating a tale over an over again throughout history that this is somehow proof in the truth of the story. After all, once we get too far back in history all we have to go on is word of mouth. In fact, there are tons of documents that are simply retelling ancient stories that have been handed down verbally around campfires through generations. Why will some folks embrace these stories as fact, yet throw out other stories relayed in the same manner as folktales or silly beliefs?

It seems there are many reasons people study the past. I know my reason is to try and make sense of how we arrived at our various traditions. There is also some pleasure to be derived from learning more about a religion then its modern day followers, then quizzing them on why they believe how they do. You’ll find this same pattern throughout my writings.

Historians strive to find the truth that has been buried long ago, but often times the path leads to misdirection and only to a distorted version of the truth of the time. Trying to discern reality from historical fantasy gets more difficult as time passes. Even major historical events of our modern era have been argued and twisted so that we don’t know what happened even when we have actual photographic footage of an event.

Studying the history that we have uncovered is fun, and interesting, but I feel time is better spent in forward momentum. Yes the tools man used centuries ago are fascinating, but how will this solve the hunger problem of today? The pyramids are incredible, but will knowing the exact number of slaves it took to build them prevent the outrageous religious disputes of our time?

There is the old adage that we study history so that we learn to not recreate the mistakes of our past. As wise a statement as this is, we seem to repeat historical problems again and again. Are we wasting too much time trying to unlock our past, when we should really be concentrating on the direction humanity is traveling?

More time needs to be focused on how we are going to survive long enough to create the next amazing feats that future historians will study.

We need to come up with plans that will stop the religious conflicts around the world. We need to create a way that will put an end to hunger around the world once and for all. And will someone please figure out a way to understand women and children!

I applaud the work historians have done, and I am not suggesting in any way that their science should be aborted. Some of you may already be aware that I too enjoy researching my family history to try and discover where exactly we came from, and what my ancestors where doing throughout various points in the evolution of the human race.

I’m sure you enjoy history as well as I do, and as you will no doubt see in my future writings, I will be delving into the past as frequently as I enjoy a quick gaze into my crystal ball at the future.

As you read dusty books, and a historians scribbling on what they think happened thousands of years ago just remember that these are just tales, stories written down by people trying to capture a moment in time. Some parts may be true, and others created to fill in the gaps between what is known and what is unknown.

Enjoy the writings when you need a nice tale to take you from the worries of your daily life. When you are done on your side trip, flip your thoughts 180 degrees and let’s get to work on fixing the direction we are now heading. After all, our history is a nice place to visit, but don’t get too hooked on living there.

2 comments:

  1. History is always distorted by the people reporting. That is one of the reasons that good historians try to get several accounts of the same event from several people on different sides of it. From those accounts it is possible to estimate what probably actually happened, however I think that it is impossible to ever reconstruct an event of any complexity to the level where we can say definitively 'This Happened This Way'.

    History is a science of educated guesses. Nothing more.

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  2. "estimate what probably actually happened"

    That about sums it up! ;)

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