05 April 2007

History is Your Future

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be forever a child."

I'm fascinated by history. Not history as a set of immutable facts about artillery shells and wigged men marching in the parade of manifest destiny but, rather, history as the answer to the question of how now happened.

Gaining knowledge of history is the first step towards gaining control over the future. To attempt change without understanding the momentum of history is futile - like flies frantically waving their arms to re-direct traffic. History has its own momentum and the leaders who matter are those who learn to work with the force of history in the same way a judo expert uses an opponent's strength.

History has trends. George W. believes that democracy is the natural state of communities and ridding a community of a tyrant will automatically lead to the emergence of a democracy. The notion that democracy might require prerequisites, might be a developmental stage (and not even a final evolutionary stage) seems to elude him. History suggests that the unfolding of life and communities has a particular order.

It is only because of the patterns of history that we can live lives of coherence: we know that tomorrow the sun will rise at about 6:30 because it did today and the day before; we know that our retirement accounts will grow about 5 to 10% a year because they have for decades; we know that there will be demand for our skill next month because there was next month. Our lives are acts of prediction and that prediction comes from knowledge of the past. A community’s future is never better than its understanding of the past.

One of the things that history and the future have in common is that they are both unattainable through anything but today's understanding.


cce said...

I'm not sure there's an abstract concept that doesn't elude our President. I actually considered going to bed and not waking until he pulled his head out of his arse and the troop out of Iraq but that was March 2004...feeling like this is the longest wrinkle in time, EVER. Though I know that other world leaders have made grievous mistakes, I'm pretty sure that Messopotamia (to quote John Stewart) is the biggest debacle of all times. We've ceded the moral high ground to terrorists and continue to wade in a self made stew of military ineptitude.

Ron Davison said...

"wade in a stew of self made stew of military ineptitude" is a delightfully clever and sadly apt phrase.