12 August 2012

Historical perspective

Taking a fresh look at the history of our 'evil, racist, oppressive, blah blah blah' country:

The list goes on, but the pattern is clear. Virtually every nation or people of note in history did terrible (by modern standards) things to others that were not considered part of their tribe, clan, religion, or group. But most of them did it without accomplishing much of particular significance, furthering scientific advancement, making the average person better off, broadening human rights, broadening educational opportunities, helping other nations succeed, or otherwise improving the lot of their citizenry other than at the expense of the oppressed. The exceptions, like the Roman Empire, are notable because they are so unusual, but even they generally refused to acknowledge their flaws.

America admits the flaws, and tries to learn from them, and get better. But to do so without also acknowledging the truly great and unusual things the nation has done is to do our nation and her people a great disservice, sort of like only looking at the murders done with guns but not also seeing the cases of guns used for self-defense. It’s a “cost-benefit” analysis that only looks at the costs, which gives an entirely incorrect picture of reality.

That is why I think that history should be second only to language as a field of study in public school. It is full of exciting stories that anyone and everyone can relate to and learn from, it’s not always technical, it’s got fascinating bits and pieces as well as sweeping, epic tales, interesting people, great inventions and close-fought battles, and it can be made exciting and relevant to all age groups. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". We really, really need to not repeat some of the missteps of the 20th Century; to do that, we need to be aware of them. To look at only the warts on our republic’s history and demand radical changes is the same as admitting that you are unaware of the worse warts shown to be on all other competing systems of governance. We are not perfect; but neither are we as evil as some make us out to be.

RTWT.  If you're looking for perfection, you'll be waiting a long time.

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