Thinking Historically (Part Two)

OrwellHistory is more than just trivia. It is more than dates and places and names. A record of what we have done and where we have been, it offers to us a guide for learning based on the vast experience of the course of human events. In turn this allows us to grow, to advance and to progress beyond in the deeper knowledge that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The problem is that we have become a society that no longer believes that those lessons are applicable to us, they are no longer valid to who we are. In our hubris we believe that through our advancements, we are above the lessons of history. We live in an age, after all, with modern marvels that would confound even the most enlightened of scholars, and would transcend the dreams of the most learned of individuals.

Yet that does not leave us immune to the value or the worth that history holds.

We can see that in many of the struggles that we face as a nation and a people. In many senses, the worst of the problems we face, they have been, and continue to be avoidable if we took the time to look at the history with more than a fleeting interest or a passing consideration, if we considered it as a means to frame our perspective and educate our outlook. What, for example, can we learn from McCarthyism amidst our current political dialogue? What can the Tea Tax of 1773 teach us about Government Bailouts and the popular reaction to them? What can does early American Treasury Policy under Alexander Hamilton teach us about debt?

Though perhaps not always perfect examples, they offer insight and understanding as we consider human nature, and the possible implications of the course we are embarking on. It then allows us to see the future with greater clarity, allowing for us to make provisions for the present and plan for the tomorrow with a deeper sense of what it is going to bring. It is why it is so essential that we think historically, why we take a critical view of history and the implications that it has.

To this we need to think of it like a puzzle. Though we may see the larger picture, that picture is constructed of several small pieces that interlock together to construct it. Those consist of the “Why” or the “How”, the motives and the motivations, ideas and notions, ideologies and incentives, they push in together with the “What” to create a larger view of each small portion of those events, people and places that constitute the larger, grander scope of that history. This reminds us that nothing stands on its own, or exists free of internal and external factors. Though not all reactions may be, as we learn in physics, equal or opposite to an action, they are there, setting in motion the course of human activity, thought and, on a larger scale, history.

It isn’t then just about understanding history, but also the context and the application of it in a wider scope. This sets it against the backdrop of the human experience and human nature, revealing to us that though two things may never be exactly alike there are general understandings that govern us, allowing for us to learn from our past mistakes and judge the future, allowing us to strengthen our response to circumstances and situations and, thus put us on a surer footing for the future.

HeinleinThis is not something that we outgrow or we advance beyond just because we have the technological prowess to advance our civilization and our society to new technological heights or enlightened understandings. If it was then Greece, the cradle of advanced thoughts and ideas would stand like the Colossus at the precipice of human advancement, or Rome, with all of its works, would govern over the achievements of humanity even still. Egypt, Greece, Rome, they would fade, subject to human flaws and nature. Yet, still, as the Founders realized, there was much to be gleaned from their rises and falls, lessons that still rang true in the eighteenth century, and lessons that still ring true today.

At our fingertips we have more access to information than any other time in our history. The question then becomes how we are going to use it. Is it simply to be for trivia, or is it for something else entirely? Ultimately the answer is up to us but what we perhaps have to remember is that for as far as we have come, we can go further and reach to greater heights if we let history guide us to where we need to be.

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