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26 February 2015

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FB Ali

Col Lang,

A brilliant post! I agree fully with the underlying thesis.

Ramojus

Thank you Col. Lang,

This post is an example of the precise reason why I visit your blog daily!

Ted B

How about (the notion of history) as something that has and is happening...and that written history is specious at best.

Maybe? how about pushing/morphing the history theme into humankind evolution. Ie 'our' presumption that human life or democracy is the end/apex of evolution/history (e.g., Fukuyama School.)

steve

Might makes right. Unlikely that's gonna change.

turcopolier

Ted B

IMO history has no meaning other than a record of what our ancestors did or experienced. IMO humans have changed little in recorded time and therefore we can learn much from the record. This is not the same thing as believing that mankind's future is destined. pl

Lars

As Arnold Toynbee once stated, correctly in my mind, in history challenge and response has replaced cause and effect. Thus we can learn from history. Not that it will predict the future, but some poor choices can possibly be avoided.

Like attacking Moscow in the winter is a poor choice history would tell us.

João Carlos

IMHO, there are scientific and technological progress, but it come in waves, Kondratieff waves. So, technology accelerates for late deacellerate and again accelerate. I don't believe we are seeing the end of industrial age with the peak oil, but some people believe at it, IMHO we will go for solar power.
History don't show humans have progress at other areas, moral, ethical whatever, war is the same since ancient times and crusades were not better or worse than IS.
There are more than one culture and one moral code and civilizations born, grow, get old and die, it is a cycle for each different civilization. Each particular civilization can exist for some hundred year or for some thousand years, some civilizations endure more time than others. The current problem is that, IMHO, each two Kondratieff waves the hegemonic power falls, because it cannot cope with the technological advance that force to build a new infrastructure (trains, then cars and plane; telegraph, then phone and radio, then internet) and the Britain Empire fell two Kondratieff waves ago...

Ken Halliwell

When the next giant asteroid(s) hits the earth ( http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ ), perhaps any humans that may remain will be mumbling: "We must have been on the wrong side of history."

Babak Makkinejad

I agree with you and add that the search for "Meaning" in history among European thinkers occurred at the same time as belief in God giving "Meaning" to human life declined.

Historical writings in China, ancient Greeks & Romans, and Muslims were not predicated on the existence of any meaning in history - the intent was instruction to avoid similar disasters and catastrophes - God Willing.

ex-PFC Chuck

Churchill said that history is “one God damned thing after another,” and like you I think that is true in the sense that it, like biological evolution, is directionless. This doesn't suggest that it is meaningless, as Henry Ford implied when he said that “history is bunk.” It was George Santayana, if I recall correctly, who wrote that “those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Mark Twain's remark that “history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme” is intriguing, especially in the way the notion was fleshed out by the late William Howe and Neil Howe in their books “Generations” and “The Fourth Turning.” They take the Roman-era concept of the “saeculum,” the period of a long human life (80-100) years as the unit of a complete cycle. Each saeculum consists of four parts or “turnings” as they call them, which they describe as corresponding to the four seasons. Whereas the events of a given season from one saeculum to the next don't repeat themselves, they assert that they do rhyme in terms of both the kinds of actions that take place and the characteristics of the people who dominate those times. And picking up on Santanya they suggest that one factor driving the rhyming is that our leaders do indeed increasing forget to learn from history as it slips further into the past, as is now occurring with regard to the events of 1914 and 1962.

In their books Strauss and Howe map this concept onto Anglo-American history since the mid-15th century with intriguing results. “The Fourth Turning, which was published in 997, was initially regarded with considerable derision because it predicted the onset of a period of crisis early in the forthcoming century. I suspect many of the authors of the early reviews of the book on Amazon have stopped laughing by now, even as we are amused when we read those reviews. A number prominent historians have come to view the past through the Strauss and Howe lens. One who comes to mind with whom some people here may be familiar is David Kaiser, formerly affiliated with the US Naval War College.

BabelFish

Yes, my first thought and that history is written by the winners or delusional losers.

I watched an episode of some TV series (documentary) where a Mexican child was reading an account of the glorious victory of a mere handful of Mexican soldiers over thousands of gringos at the Alamo.

FB Ali

The notion that history has a "a destined path" also leads to the equally pernicious notion of being on the "right side of history". For example, it was once thought that the 'colonising mission' of Europe was inevitable. The British rule over India for 200 years was neither on the "wrong side" nor the "right side" of history.

The current belief among fundamentalists of all religions - Muslim, Christian and Jewish - that human history has an inevitable path (along which they alone are treading) is a danger to us all.

A similar dangerous belief is that of human nature being of some one pattern, with all other behaviours being "unnatural". The Nazi persecution of homosexuals was one example of this.

The Moar You Know

History is written by the winners. In that respect there most assuredly is a "right" and "wrong" side of history, in that if you win, you're in, if you lose, not even your own people will know your name or even of your existence in two generations.

But in this context, that of history "having a direction", well, "right" and "wrong" isn't a division into winners or losers, it's some crazed, wrong variant of Darwinian theory with the evolutionary pressure being that of theological twaddle about MORAL right or wrong. And history does not give a flip about that. Hey, if you were morally decent (by my standards) AND a winner, well, good for you. I like those stories. Everyone does. But they are not the rule.

As most of you know, I'm a liberal. Don't necessarily sign on to everything that currently falls under the label of "the liberal agenda", but a lot of it. And one of the things that pains me on a daily basis is that liberals (particularly labor) stopped fighting to win sometime right about when Johnson was president. They'd far rather think of themselves as "good people" engaged in noble philosophical discussions, rather than take exuberant joy at Godzilla-stomping their opponents into a bloody mush. And so they've been losing badly - with a few notable exceptions - for decades.

(that anyone could maintain with a straight face that Obama, Clinton, or Carter is a liberal is proof of just how bad we liberals have lost the battle. We'll give anyone the title these days if they'll just throw us a bone now and then.)

A notable exception to "liberal" losses: Right now, for example, the gays won. They did this by setting a goal, getting the money and the media on their side, and then adopting a "take no prisoners" approach that did not allow for a discussion on the merits of their lifestyle, their goals, the goals of those they signed on to fight for them, societal tradition, military tradition, or really anything else save for what they wanted in the end. Focus, media, and money. They fought a determined, well-organized and funded enemy and kicked the living shit out of them by being even more determined, organized and funded. This is what winners do.

My opinion about that outcome is irrelevant, because they won. Nobody cares about my opinion now unless I approve of the new order of affairs.

As the good Colonel points out, history is amoral. Winners and losers are segregated as to if they won or lost, nothing else. A sense of historic inevitability is one of the most foolish conceits the human heart can harbor. Nothing in human affairs is either permanent or inevitable.

I look forward to revisiting this discussion with the committee in Spanish, in the year 2072, on the historic merits of the worldwide Islamic ban on homosexual behavior instituted back in 2028, right after they took over the world and forced us all to become artificial intelligences.

Hey, it could happen.

Patrick Bahzad

This is a very interesting post, straight to the point and very much in lign with current affairs.
History is pretty much what you read into it, what you bring along as personal/tribal/national/ideological/religious/political luggage.
Whether you can make something out of the past that will be useful for the future will depend on your own ability to take a step back from your own self and try looking at thing not from a totally objective point of view (it is not possible to switch off totally our own "being"), but from a point that is non-biased enough to allow for an honest reading of things past.
Of course, factual knowledge and analytical ability, as well as an understanding of geopolotics, also help, but sometimes the best educated people in these areas make the biggest mistakes, while a sheep farmer or a hill-billy from cow-dung country would instantly/instinctively see what's going on.
Not always true, but not false either !

William R. Cumming

Another terrific post by you P.L.!

The best we can do is find out WHAT happened historically and the accuracy of that determination subject to continuous revisions.

As to why some historical event or personality the best we can do is GUESS IMO. Hopefully educated guesses come close to reality but most do not.

Personally I believe that human society's technological advances doom it. But could be wrong! And hoping so in any immediate time frame.

hans

Yes, history doesn't progress, it only accumulates. And beware those whose conceits propel them to achieve their 'historic destiny' because there's nothing they won't do to secure it.

rjj

History (aka Ancestor Land) is four dimensional (at minimum) and exceedingly large, so it is reasonable to request of anybody using the cliche that they clarify the topological boundaries of one or the other side. IOW, up the bullshit/humbug ante.

kao_hsien_chih

The idea that history has a "right" or "wrong" side is just propaganda, that is all. If anyone were to take propaganda so seriously as to actually believe in them, they have serious mental problems.

Jackson B.

RE:

"- Socially conservative people are urged to get "on the right side of history" with regard to gay rights. The thinness of "scientific " evidence for the normality of the gay life is not seen on the left as a problem in proclaiming the absolute right to recognition of the LGBT lifestyle as normal."

While I share your skepticism regarding this malleable concept of "the right side of history" I find the paragraph quoted above to be questionable. When "socially conservative" people were "being urged" to stop persecution of blacks via the more equal application of civil rights, was that somehow wrong? What's so terrible about civil rights for gays today?

Thinness of scientific evidence? There have been gay people for thousands of years. You may not like this history, but it's there. How is that thin?

The idea that being gay is somehow a "lifestyle" is just downright weird. When did you (and by "you" I mean the larger population of people who espouse such views) decide to adopt the "straight lifestyle"? Oh, you were born that way? Guess what: the gays were born that way too.

Is it normal? That all depends on the varying definitions of normal that one finds, both among different people and throughout history. One hundred years ago, women voting was definitely not "normal" but today it's not particularly controversial. In fact, "normal" might well be a counterpart to "the right side of history."

rjj

"Wrong side of history" must be the latest pious ejaculation used by those same types that got a bit of a woody from saying "Carthago delenda est" or invoking "reason of state."

"Let God sort them out."

It is an indicator of inwit troubles.

kao_hsien_chih

Steve,

Depends on what kind of "might" it is, though.

Most, if not all, forms of "might" are transitory. Given enough time, they fade away. The military and cultural might of the Romans, the once-invincible Mongol hordes, the economic powerhouse of the British Empire, and so forth have all fallen away with passage of time. If the "right" can be defined and maintained in a manner that both the strong and the weak find it in their interest to uphold them, it can be sustained rather longer than an order based purely on "might" alone, though. But, can "right" without any "might" be maintained? probably not.

bth

The ubiquitous accelerating impact of science and technology over the last few centuries is a progressing if not a progressive development in human evolution by any measure. While technology ebbs and flows over time such as the fall of the Roman empire, there is no indication that technology is slowing or its impact lessening. Quite the opposite.

Christopher Dale Rogers

There are no sides of history, just history. And whilst it can inform, it cannot predict, as we learn daily from economic models, history is just too complex.

Won't get into the political dynamics, but do like my history.

6th-generation Texan

Colonel,

For a millenium Germany (often referred to as "the Germanies" by contemporaries) was kept fragmented and thus weak by, in large part, the machinations of popes and French kings*. The horrors of the Thirty Years War were inflicted almost entirely on its territory and population, and the resulting devastation retarded its development for centuries.

By the mid-1800s and through following decades, however, Germany had recovered to the point that its population and economic growth were far outstripping other Continental countries, and after unification in 1871 the new German Empire was well on the path to becoming the hegemon of Europe.

Huge amounts of blood and treasure were spent from 1866-1945 by first Austria, then France, then the Entente, and finally the Allies, to keep Germany from dominating Europe. And yet here we are, a century and a half later, with all of the European empires long-since destroyed as a result of those futile efforts — and what do we have? A continental Europe ruled over by the hegemon, Germany (albeit under some constraints by the USA).

Were France, the Entente, et. al. on "the wrong side of history?" If that phrase means "being unable to draw proper conclusions from facts in evidence," then their self-destruction in a fruitless attempt to prevent/reverse the clear course of demographic and economic trends would make them appear so to me.

------------
*An excellent analysis of this policy is given by Geoffrey Barraclough in "The Origins of Modern Gemany".

turcopolier

bth

IMO there is no basis whatever in thinking that technological development is "evolution" in human beings or their behavior. pl

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