Sunday, October 26, 2014

5 Things History Has Taught Me

I'm a lover and student of history. It's a subject I've always found fascinating. To me the greatest aspect of history can be found in dissecting the word itself. History originates from 'his story' and that's what it is; the story of humanity. This story is often bloody, complicated and, of course, revealing. Besides the old addage, 'History, repeats itself', I've learned much about humanity by studying our story. In this post I'd like to share five revelations I've experienced and hopefully help others gain a new perspective. 

1) No One is Innocent: Everyone Has Blood on Their Hands

Cherokee forcibly evicted from their homes by US soldiers during the 'Trail of Tears'.

I figured I'd start with a dark one. Now by everyone I don't mean every individual human who has lived, breathed, cried, eaten and died since time began. By everyone I mean every country, nation, ethnic group, race, tribe, religion, political movement etc. Pretty much any larger identity that a person can belong to has committed some sort of atrocity against another group of people at some point. Whether your black or white, Arab or Han-Chinese, Christian or Buddhist, American or Chadian, Marxist or Conservative someone or a group of someones who looked like you, spoke your language, or believed what you believe killed, displaced or otherwise ruined the lives of a significant number of people at some point. As dark and as depressing a realization as that might be, I can't help but feel that there would be a lot less hatred and finger-pointing between different types of people if everyone knew of at least one atrocity their 'people' committed.

2) Each Generation Lives in the Present and Believes its Struggles Are the Hardest

This may be especially true of the time I'm living in now. Our technology allows instant access to information about every disaster around the world. However, reading history reveals that whenever a group of people encounter disaster they view it purely in the present without reflecting on past events of a similar nature. This is either due to a lack of knowledge  about the past or just the Presentism we humans seem to easily embrace. In my time I've seen revolutions break out, wars erupt and natural disasters sweep away whole towns. Watching cable news you might think that this was the first time any of these things have occurred. The panic, speculation and fear conveys that. 

3) Many of Today's Problems Have Been With Us Since the Beginning

We may live in the present and believe our problems to be unique. But more or less the problems we face today have confronted people again and again since we stopped hunting mammoths and started plowing fields. War and conflict, hunger and poverty, disease and natural disaster. Humans have been there and done that many times. Before Ebola, there was Spanish Influenza before that the Black Death. Technology may have advanced, societies may have changed significantly but we still wrestle with the same issues that the Romans and Egyptians did.

4) People and Cultures Have Always Mixed and Influenced Each Other

This may be especially true of the time I'm living in now. Globalization is a hot term in the 21st century. The world truly is smaller, thanks to technology, and people of different cultural and national backgrounds are sharing ideas and interacting on a unprecedented level. However, even though the scale of this salad bowl is new, people of different backgrounds have always mingled and borrowed from one another. The Western world got its numerals from the Arabs, who got it from the Indians. Tonkatsu, a Japanese dish, was influenced by the fried food of Portugese merchant sailors who made contact with Japan in the 16th century. The design of many mosques with their domes and minarets was inspired by Orthodox churches encountered by Muslims in the early days of their great conquests. America's Democracy was influenced in the ideas of British and, to a lesser extent, French philosophers. It wasn't just technology, art and culture that was exchanged though. People shared themselves as well. The study of human genetics has revealed, not too suprisingly, that cross-cultural relationships are nothing new either. This makes notions of nationalism and racism particularly hollow. Go far enough back we're all connected to each other.

 5Humans Want to Be Distinct and Our Nature Has Never Really Changed

Despite our mingling and shared genetics, people have always drawn up boundaries around themselves so that they could be unique. The human animal is unique in that we desire a higher esoteric meaning for our lives. We have the same instincts as other creatures: Gain food, find or make shelter and reproduce to make sure our species continues. Yet we also want our lives to have extra meaning outside of those basic needs. We crave a unique identity that gives us this meaning. Often we find this special identity in our cultures, our race, our nationalities, our sexuality, our religion anything. And we also desire love and a sense of belonging. No matter where and when in the world you look people are people.

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