Tuesday, May 22, 2007

repeating history - sorta

George Santayana observed that: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

This is true as far as it goes, but people who dwell on the past are condemned to stagnation, constantly trying to un-ring millions of bells. This not strictly revisionist history, with it's agenda driven rewriting of events, but more a form of inertia combined with a wistfulness for what might have been.

Recently I was reading a fascinating article in National Geographic Magazine about Jamestown. The article was pretty enlightening, and wasn't quite the usual "White Man Kills Natives and Rapes Their Land" tales, although there are some elements of that.

Thing is... the last line captures the inherent irrelevancy well: "Four centuries ago, the English didn't discover a New World - they created one."

Some perspective is in order. Earth has been populated with humans for a million years or more. Here and there, when a group was successful they expanded, or when they were failing they moved. This led to occasional friction. Further, these interactions weren't always fair. Later humans made efforts at reducing those frictions that still occurred, not often successfully.

Also humans, like other species, impact the places they inhabit.

That's human history in a paragraph or two. It's fundamentally immutable. Use a telescope or a microscope to look at it - the only change is one of scale.

The point of all this isn't diminish the study of history, it is to re-affirm that history is what it is. It isn't malleable. Even new discoveries change only what we know, not what was!

There are three additional areas where this really simple idea is currently being ignored. Illegal Immigration, Iraq, and Global Climate Change.

I will expand on the latter issues as time permits.

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