ALS Topic 10 -
History is written by the literate, and lived by the nameless
Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime
Seminar, 9 June 2018
questions below are not supposed to suggest biased answers. You
really can adopt any point of view your can suggest evidence for. Do
be prepared for others suggesting counter-evidence! Note: clearly
not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but
they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while
making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who
come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.
1. "You can go back in history and say
anything" - Anuvab Pal. Try to think of examples where this
assertion has been exploited. (reference: Sarah Sahim (3 May 2018"
"Empire state of mind: the comedian untangling India's identity
crisis. An interview with Anuvab Pal". The Guardian @
2. "It's not what happens to you that is important. The
important question is what you do with what (you think) happened to
you". How are people crippled, deluded, enraged or empowered by what
they think is 'history' (true or false)?
3. There is no place
of human settlement on earth that hasn't been invaded by strangers,
and reinvaded, and colonised (usually multiple times) over the last
20,000 years. Sometimes the incomers exterminate the originals
('ethnic cleansing'), or absorb the originals into a new culture, or
sometimes they are absorbed themselves. This is the world we live
in. At what point should the old resentments and hatreds of history
be put aside to build a society on what we actually have now?
4. How should history be taught in schools, and how much? I
frequently meet individuals who have no apparent formal knowledge of
history at all (just encounters with the occasional TV re-creation).
I can see the distortions in my own historical education, but I have
a starting point. Chinese citizens from the PRC I meet have been
totally misled, and they are not alone. Where do we start?
Historical theme parks are popular in some countries (especially
China). Historical homes to visit are a more common approach in
Australia. How useful and how reliable (which is a different
question) are such venues for giving people a sense of how life was
lived in earlier generations.
6. Genealogy is a popular
hobby. How useful is it as a personal path into understanding life
in earlier generations?
7. There is an argument that
'history' as recorded is rather like the daily news cycle: a
complete distortion based on dramatic events, and ignoring the daily
reality of most people's lives. What is the best way to overcome
this kind of distortion?
8. There are idioms attached to
history: e.g. 'The price of forgetting history is to relive it'.
'History repeats/never repeats itself' (take your pick); 'History
books that contain no lies are extremely tedious' [Anatole France].
So what kind of history can we in fact learn something useful from?
9. A more sophisticated way to examine history is to focus on
subjects: 'history of science', 'history of religion', 'history of
art', and so on. Is this kind of history likely to be more useful
and reliable than the traditional political histories? What kind of
history would interest you?
10. In futuristic books like
'1984' (Orwell) we find predictions about societies where any
historical memory is erased and forbidden by a ruling elite. Any
claim whatsoever can be made for political advantage by that elite.
How close are we to that kind of society? What are its dangers.
Sarah Sahim (3 May 2018) "Empire state of mind: the comedian
untangling India's identity crisis. An interview with Anuvab Pal".
The Guardian @
Bennett, (27 May 2018) "Don’t rewrite history, even if you get an
awkward Spitfire question". The Guardian @
hygienic during the middle ages?" -
admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia - Over the past
decades, researchers have concluded Admiral Zheng He and his armada
were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia" . By
Chow Chung-yan, 20 Aug 2016 @
generational view of history: "Polybius reached his conclusion by
first distinguishing between three distinct forms of government. In
a kingdom, the king rules either justly or becomes a tyrant. When a
group of men rules, they can either be the best and wisest (“the
aristocrats”) or be corrupt oligarchs. A popular majority can
constitute a democracy — the third option — with civic order and
rule of law, or can also be mob rule where lawlessness prevails.
Unless features of the three forms of governing are mixed, they can
end badly, even if they start well, because, Polybius explains, the
handing down of privileges to future generations is done without the
latter understanding the discipline that was necessary to create the
well-being to start with..... ." “Mixed constitutions” incorporating
elements of the three distinct forms of government may prevent such
declines. The Roman experiment was Polybius’ example, where consuls
were “commanders-in-chief,” (an aspect of monarchy); limited by the
senate controlling the purse (an aspect of “aristocracy”); the two
being controlled by people, voting for or against laws, and ratify
(or not) alliances and treaties". @http://www.atimes.com/history-rhyming-bannons-generational-view-history-kind/
is written by the losers" - a really interesting blog post:
- "Sima Qian is sometimes called the “Herodotus of the East.” It’s a
fair title. Herodotus is one of two men who can claim to have
invented history. Sima Qian is the other"... "When high position is
stolen from you, and access to the heights of wealth and power
denied, there is little one can do about it—except write. History is
thus rarely a “weapon of the weak.” The judgments of the historian
do not serve the margins. They do not even serve the masses. They
are a weapon in the hand of defeated elites, the voices of men and
women who could be in power, but are not. What was true in
Thucydides day is true in our own. The simplest explanation for
modern academics' hostility to 21st century capitalism's “structures
of power” is their complete exclusion from them."
notion in this seminar is that "civilization" is never more than a
generation deep for the vast majority of people in a culture. What
is passed on to young minds is fragmentary, biased and accidental.
The young can be told anything, and will at an heroic age
(17-27y.o.) willingly die to defend whatever tales they have been
told. Those tales are constructed by a literate elite and used by
power elites for social control. The real working life of your great
great grandparents is a memory forever lost. China, to take one
example, often claims 5000 years of recorded history, but I've seen
estimates that before the modern era only about 2% of Chinese were
literate. 98% had no "history". It is the same in every culture.
1. articles at
legacy site: http://thormay.net