The following essay examines the question: If recording the events of the past and present referred to as History, what is its relevance or purpose if; major events in recorded history have a propensity to repeat in occurrence denoted by the comment: History repeats itself but once again?
History; a general term utilized to reference an account of a past experience or event expressed both casually and formally. The former being conveyed orally through generations often come to be considered as “myth” in that they are not widely supported by acceptable, evidential material to corroborate their having happened, whereas the latter is typically presented in written form supported by accepted factual evidence and are often referred to as the “document of record” or the “official recorded history”. True history by nature, especially recorded accounts of events and/or situations, is expected to provide a detailed, factual expression of the matter and/or situation being observed, clearly supported by all related references to corroborate or substantiate the information specified by the written record in order to satisfy any future reference, a level of confidence in the validity and accuracy that the event transpired as represented by the official document of record.
The principle objective of creating and maintaining historical records is to serve as a legacy source to future generations of humanity. Another objective is to provide a viable and true representation of human-experience that occurred before their current time with the view and hope, it will serve to both enlighten and edify, that it may serve to render an insight to both the good and bad that has transpired over the passage of time. That said, it is also necessary to view official recorded history with a degree of skepticism and caution. It is also essential that the official record of history represent a true and accurate account of the historical reality it is deemed to document. Cynically speaking, there are many arguments to refute this general acceptance. The primary of these, from which all others fall, is that history originates from the minds and pens of “Man” (of both sexes) and, as such, is highly susceptible to ambitions and power to influence the “truth” to events recorded.
It is difficult to make such claim toward historical record representing an era of antiquity for reasons that are obvious, however, there are several “living” examples wherein the official historical account recorded as fact can and is refuted as potentially misrepresented by those still living and reputed to have been present to witness the event in history. In today’s parlance, such rebuttals are commonly referred to as “conspiracy theory”; opposition to historical facts documented. These more often just serve as fodder for arguments that seemingly never satisfactorily resolve to warrant alteration of the historical document of record. Examples of such events that raise such concern and most commonly known today include:the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy; the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; and the U.S.S. Liberty incident that ignited the United States conflict in Vietnam, amongst many others. Other world events that continue to be questioned as to their veracity of truth in historical fact given their potential for distortion at the influence and power of human authority both then and now for self-governing reason are such monumental historical accounts (given in no specific order of reference) as Holocaust of World War II, the archaeological origins of homo-sapiens, the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments), the Russian Revolution, to name a few.
One can satisfactorily conceive that given a potential and willingness to distort the “truth” to relatively current events in human history for reasons that are not often evident or the privy of the general public, is it not reasonably conceivable that comparable influence was and potentially continues to be imposed upon the documented history of centuries past? The unfortunate aspect to resolving this conundrum, however, lies in that all witnesses to ancient historical events have long deceased, rendering no satisfactory way to discern one way or another if the record as written, should be accepted as accurate and factual. Ironically, by virtue of this obvious conundrum, an argument can be made to suggest an eventual symmetry of meaning to the terms: “conspiracy theory” and “myth”. The former evolves to become the latter with the passage of time.
To go one step further in this cynical view of recorded history is to question,”What is ‘truth?” Generally speaking “truth” has come to mean what the majority of constituents hold to be the factual and honest representation to the matter of discourse. However, can the arguments made with respect to the veracity of historical record not be applied here as well? As the decades give way to the future, those living who support the arguments to counter the official historical account die off; these incidents fade in memory and are then left for future, human descendants to interpret, accept or deny what lies contained within volumes laden with dust, in library archives. It is these refuted sources of distortion to historical record the “minds of men” impose on the manner and accounting of history that contributes significantly to the repetitious failing of humankind to overcome through remedy, its short-comings to achieve a truly civilized, sociologically harmonious existence.
True to fact, regardless of lessons to be learned from history, a major factor in the continued barbarism of man lies in the inherent violent nature of human beings driven by ego that plays a significant factor in discounting any lessons attributable to historical experience, no matter how egregious the account. Illustrating this fact are the annual war memorial services in remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of lives sacrificed through wars of the past. Even with this heart-wrenching reminder, wars rage on and lives continue to be sacrificed. Although the deemed purpose of documenting humanity’s history is to serve as reminder to the nature of its past reality, ultimately, as proven by our contemporary reality, it is just that: a “Document of Record” and not a viable source to reason or rationalize humanity’s future actions.
To conclude, in order to bring into better focus why it serves humanity well to question the generational struggles in recorded history as a primary reference source in charting a better course to become a better “social animal” and for the sake of an undefined and somewhat ubiquitous quest toward a greater perception of good versus evil, one need only look to their own, personal record of history to recognize its potential failing as proof of the distortion and deception that exists to alter “truth” by expunging written record, destroying evidential material, etc. Would the same not be as plausible on a grander, global scale?
Humanity’s history will not serve to alter its ways, it will only serve as a faulty tool to mirror its short-comings.
Judge’s Review of Submission:
The criteria which I used to mark the entries were as follows: (1) content, including originality of thought, use of voice, standard vocabulary and usage; (2) mechanics and organization, including mechanical correctness and the presence of structure; (3) consistency and methodology, comprised of a fundamental ability to sustain and argue a point effectively, as well as the ability to maintain a sympathetic approach to historiographical issues and analysis. I placed greater emphasis on originality, structure and the acknowledgment of historiographical problems/issues posed by both questions.
The winner of the competition, Joseph Parascandalo, scored highly in all areas. His entry was exactly what I was looking for and I’ll explain why. First and foremost, Joseph clearly indicated which essay question he was answering. This should be the first thing a participant addresses; he or she must obviously bring to the judge’s attention what he or she writing about. It’s startling that many of the entries made no such mention of this! More importantly though, Joseph’s essay response was structured quite well and unraveled in a clear and logical manner. It was very easy to follow his argument. He begins by defining the concept of “history” as a construct of the Western mind, explicating that it is “a general term utilized to reference an account of a past experience or event expressed both casually and formally.” He also places it within the context of the essay question. The purpose of history is to “provide a viable and true representation of human experience that occurred before the current time with the view and hope it will serve to both enlighten and edify, to render an insight to both the good and bad that has transpired over the passage of time.” Then he anatomically dissects it, exploring the relationship between history and reality, history and myth, as well as history and conspiracy theory, concepts which in the contemporary world have become rather blurred. Hence, we have an engagement of the hermeneutics of modern culture, an observation I was keenly looking for.
In addition, Joseph’s response takes into careful consideration the historiographical issues which beg to be addressed. Conventional written history is indeed written by the socio-political warriors, the sons of Aries as I call them, and is therefore biased and flawed. Furthermore, because the accounts have been written, reasoned and explained away by the aggressors, they can usually offer no new perspectives for politico-social and religious cohesion. It’s an unbroken chain where the torch is passed on from one “Arian” race to the next, over and over and over again. Joseph draws attention to this when he explains that “It is these refuted sources of distortion to the historical record–the ‘minds of men’–impose on the manner and accounting of history that contributes significantly to the repetitions failing of humankind to overcome through remedy, its shortcomings to achieve a truly civilized, sociologically harmonious existence.”
From the perspective of metaphysics and social philosophy, history itself has been paved by the masculine aesthetic which seeks expression through the subjugation of nature, and often involves mass destruction and the loss of life. This form of consciousness has its roots in the supposition that domination is divine, and hence to practice it is heroic, noble and transcendental. Joseph brings attention to this tenet later on, when he elucidates that “a major factor in the continued barbarism of man lies in the inherently violent nature of human beings driven by ego that plays a significant factor in discounting any lessons attributable to historical experience, no matter how egregious the account.” The statement itself betrays an awareness of the anatomical structure of masculine aesthetic consciousness, or what Western analytical psychology terms the “ego”–the resident of the dominant left-hand hemisphere of the brain that burns and judges, differentiates, divides and compartmentalizes, sets up social barriers, norms and convictions and other false forms of truth not conducive to unity and togetherness. This was the thematic overture I was after, and it was present in Joseph’s entry.
He also correctly alludes to the historical record as a socio-political or cultural thermometer, which measures the “reality” of any one specific time against all those that have gone beforehand. As a thermometer is powerless to predict the behavior and vacillation of liquid mercury, so too is any historical record incompetent when it comes to correctly predicting or mediating the future, or as he says “it is just that: a “Document of Record” and not a viable source to reason or rationalize humanity’s future actions.” His conclusion not only recapitulates his main contention, but draws attention to the psycho-dynamics of personal and collective history, in other words the microcosm and macrocosm as a pale reflection of the human psyche itself. Mirrored in the annals of history, human nature itself is immeasurable and unquantifiable. Thus any attempt by anthropologists to apply the workings of the oral and written past, itself a one-dimensional overview, to the present and future for the sake of prediction, mediation and the betterment of the human condition is futile. This brings us back to the Hermetic and alchemical tenet, “As above, so below” and “As inner, so outer.” The fundamental laws governing both are the same, so it makes sense that a personal history can and might indeed mirror the course of collective or global history.
He sums up his main contention well, and provides a pertinent concluding line: “Humanity’s history will not serve to alter its ways; it will only serve as a faulty tool to mirror its shortcomings.” In all, a conscientious, well-written and shrewd response, sympathetic to the historiographical issues, the multidimensional definition of “history” as well as the hermeneutics of culture. Well done Joseph.