Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Looking Forward to the Past- A treatise on the present

I am what you might call a "historophile", if such a word existed. I love history. In particular, I enjoy learning about those periods that US history either glosses over or completely ignores. As all American people know, the history of the world stops only at the following stations: Egypt (first civilization), Greece (That whole foundation of Western Thought thing), Rome (Big Empire, also Jesus lived during this time), England (Americans with funny accents, and they're cool except for 1776 and 1812) and the United States (Truly the pinnacle of all mankind's efforts towards Democracy and Freedom. Once we're around, everyone else can suck it).

Some of the more accomplished readers might notice a few absences from these general guideposts on the trail of human history. Oh, a schoolbook might mention Columbus or Magellan, might touch on the French Revolution (which of course was much less important than that of the US). Particularly lucky students might have even heard of the Holy Roman Empire.

It's not hard to blame the teachers: history keeps happening all the time. It's very inconvenient to try and keep up, and while it's important for us to have those 2 extra pages to focus on September 11, something's got to be cut out: I'm looking at you Magna Carta.

More interesting to me was a trend that first began in high school. In previous history books, we learned about Thomas Jefferson, brave Father of our Country and all-around hero to the world. Suddenly, we were learning about Thomas Jefferson, that dirty motherfucker who owned slaves. Now, I'm not saying I prefer the former description to the latter, but let's have some balance. He can be a founding father as well as a dirty motherfucker. It never stopped me in my personal or professional life.

So I look for information regarding the temporal cracks in our otherwise healthy, balanced and robust history lessons. What exactly happened during the period from 1813-1861? Why were there Viking ships in the middle east? Who is this Mao Zedong person anyways? All questions that would render comatose most people are like sweet manna to me.

It's not just the dates and events that interest me. People interest me as well. What about a family living in Israel in the pre-Roman era? We can assume there was toil, but what did they do for fun? Was it some lesser form of toil? Instead of attempting to haplessly fertilize the arid desert, did they instead carry unimaginable burdens to and fro? These people didn't even have Scrabble for God's sake.

Sure, life sucked without digital devices, but quantify to me how badly it sucked. Were they begging for the sweet release of death, or just for the semi-sweet release of a high-ankle sprain?

I could tell you that History is alive and all around us and all sorts of other bullshit that isn't true. History is where it belongs- in the past. That doesn't mean we have to ignore it. All the people who lived before us had interesting lives- many had much more interesting lives than we do. I know there's a special kind of adventure handling tech support calls, but I wagering that sailing across an ocean of unimaginable distance to a land undiscovered by civilized men beats it- just by a bit.

Besides, if you start reading history and you decide you don't like it, you can always go back to the essential rules

1. If it came before the US, it's crap
2. If it came after the US, it's crap
3. If the US did it and it turned out badly, it's because we wanted to fail to teach ourselves a lesson.

And, most importantly 4. Canada = America Jr.


At 8:56 PM, Blogger Paradigm Shifter said...

Have you ever read Henry David Throreau's Walden Pond?

I was a teenager when I read it first and there was a passage in it where he said something like:

"a third of the colonists were for the Revolutionary War, a third were against, and a third didn't even know it was going on".

Being young at the time this hit me pretty hard because we were taught all about the Spirit of 1776, Boston Tea Party, Sons of Liberty, Declaration of Independence etc etc..To the point that I thought everyone was up in arms over the British....

Sometimes it is very difficult to seperate propaganda from reality.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Mahd said...

That's indeed true, and I think that the same ratios are pretty much intact today. You've got 120 million people who voted in the election, with approximately half voting Republican, half voting Democrat, a small minority presumably shooting guns and smoking pot as they vote for a third party candidate, and then a big old block of people who are much more concerned about going to the grocery store to see if they have that cereal that has the Jedi-shaped marshmallows.


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