Sunday, May 29, 2011

This may be shocking, but history doesn't change

We're all Sherlock Holmes, some of
us just suck at it more than others.
I get a lot of my inspiration to write stuff from my adventures on Crooks and Liars.  There are some fairly well reasoned people there, but most of them are complete wackoes who have given up on anything that even closely resembles intelligent discourse.  Mostly, it's just a bunch of cynical hyper-Liberals that beat the progressive ideological drum, sometimes even in the face of their own logical fallacies.

I don't really care to discuss Huckabee's bullshit history lessons, but rather the overall competition between perspectives of history.  Here's the quote that did it for me: "I'll never trust white men history again."

It's difficult for me to understand why people can't view history objectively.  I mean, I know that almost all historical interpretation is fairly subjective, but that doesn't change the facts of what happened.  When you take all the perspectives of history and combine them, then you realize that history is objective, you just need all the perspectives to see the objectivity of it.

Here's an example to clarify exactly what the fuck I'm talking about.  Let's look at the American Revolution.  Now, from an American perspective we were trying to preserve and enhance our democratic way of life.  We believed that the taxes imposed on us, which we were unable to oppose because we were barred from representing ourselves in Parliament, were ridiculous and restrictive.  We also believed that the crown was wrong to keep us from moving west to settle.  Those are all very valid points, and the perspective is correct.

Joseph Ellis: To some, what he has said about the American
Revolution is bullshit simply because he's a white male.

From Britain's point of view, however, the things they were doing were also compeltely justified.  Taxes were raised to pay for the French and Indian War, a war that had the aim of protecting the colonies that was fought by the British regular army.  They wanted to pay for that war, and of course it made sense that the colonists pay for their own protection through tax hikes.  And as for not allowing them to settle beyond a certain point, that was only for their protection.  Those are also very valid points, and the perspective is correct.

Competing perspectives doesn't mean that history is "wrong."  History is never wrong, it's merely the people who write about it.  History has already happened, it can't be changed, and it's up to us to discover the truth. 

The problem today, especially with progressivism, is that people think that only one specific perspective of history is the "correct," version.  People don't realize that unless a version of history is completely making up facts or erroneously recounting an event, then it's not wrong simply because it leaves out some facts.  Compare the historical perspective of the landed Southern planter class to the slaves perspective.  "America sucked ass," we could imagine the slaves recounting.  "America was fucking balling out of control," said the planters.

Both perspectives are correct but slanted.  Of course the slaves thought America sucked because they were getting their fucking feet cut off and shit, but they're leaving out the fact that America was really good to people who weren't slaves.  And of course the planters thought America was awesome because they were rich as hell from all the "free labor," but they leave out the fact that they "owned" human beings and treated them like livestock to be bought, sold, and brutally repressed.

Richard Hofstadter: White male, therefore also
bullshit apparently.
So just because a perspective only focuses on one aspect, that doesn't mean it's bogus history; it doesn't mean that it is not truth.  It just means that it is an incomplete perspective.  Now granted, if you only focus on one brand of history because it's what interests you, ie. your focus is on social history rather than military history, then that's okay.  You just have to remember that there's other perspectives out there.

So I'm sorry for all of you Marxists, but viewing history as nothing more than the history of class struggle, although meritorious and truthful in some respects, is not a complete view of history.  Ignoring historical perspectives doesn't make you anymore knowledgeable or enlightened, in fact it just means that you've sacrificed one brand of tunnel vision for another.

(Fun Fact: my brand of history has always been intellectual history.)


Silverfiddle said...

So true. I don't think we are taught in school to look objectively at history. We are always encouraged to draw a specific conclusion rather than look at the different facets.

Also, many of us are averse to hearing anything that conflicts with our worldview.

Let's face it, human beings do not like ambiguity.

Jack Camwell said...

True words, friend. Ambiguity is stressful, because I think it's a natural human impulse to acquire a degree of certainty of the world around us.

It's okay to draw specific conclusions, though, but one has to realize that a particular conclusion may not be the definitive conclusion.

Good history is just the amalgamation of a shit ton of different conclusions. The problem is that the human mind is fairly limited, so it's probably impossible for any one person to have a complete grasp on over 7,000 years of human history. That's why historians specialize. It's better to have 1 expert for each topic of history rather than 1 half-assed guy on all of history.

Karen Howes said...

Great post, Jack. I'm a history buff, and there are both objective and subjective components to history. Facts are facts-- the Battle of Gettysburg happened. But how we view the event can differ, depending on where your sympathies lay.

Marxists view EVERYTHING in terms of class struggle. This is what liberation theology is, also-- you're either an oppressor or an oppressee.

KP said...

Thoughtful post for sure. Thanks Jack. I tend to side with you because you have examined most angles. When you do that, you don't even have to be right. It causes others to think. We need more critical thinking.

Your views apply to the intellectual far left, the intellectual far right, the intellectual center (yes they exist), the nose ring far left, the nose ring far right, the casual observer on the far right, the casual observer on the far left, the casual observer in the center and the uniformed who are persuaded by movie star types and a bag of popcorn. I hope I addressed most everyone who is a likely voter.

At this point I am going to silently throw some f-bombs at everyone.

ickenittle post said...

When history is taught as fact by the dominant culture of the time, as in my case-white male oriented "truth", it dawns on you as you grow that you are being taught a one sided view of everything.

Imagine all of history as you know it being from a female only perspective.

Would it be the truth? History means "his-story" womans history is called "heresey" or "her-say" can you see the difference?

Heresy means lies and gossip-not to be trusted.

You have to recognise the BS you have been taught first-before you can become objective.

I'm objective on most things but draw a line when it comes to harmful ideology. If I wasn't I wouldn't be reading your blog.

Jack Camwell said...

Welcome back ick, glad to see that you still read my horrible rants.

I was more or less calling for what you have just said, the notion that history is a composite of different perspectives. My point of contention was that although particular perspectives might be biased and slanted, that doesn't mean the perspective itself is total BS, just that it's incomplete and shouldn't be considered comprehensive.

And I've heard the whole "his-story" thing before, but I'm fairly certain that the english word "history" comes from the French word "l'histoire." "His" is not a pronoun in French. The pronoun for he would be "il." I can't remember the word for "story" right off the top of my head. And I'm sure l'histoire comes from the Latin "historia."

Perhaps when it came into English they thought it was funny, but the word itself didn't originate in that context.

Silverfiddle said...

Way to throw cold water on it, Jack.

I was really grooving on the her-say" theory, and you had to blow it by getting all etymological on us!

Jack Camwell said...

Haha, sorry. Actually, "heresy" comes from the latin "haeresis." The possessive pronoun for "her" in Latin is "sua."

Just as well back on the origin of "history," the Latin possessive pronoun for "his" is also "sua" and the word for "story" is "fabula."

Actually, "historia" in Latin is a feminine noun. And that might not be arbitrary, as certain nouns that have a feminine termination like "nauta", or "sailor" in English, are considered masculine. Nautae, in ancient Rome, were all male so they made sure that it was considered to be a masculine noun. The same can be said for "agricola," (farmer).