February 26th, 2009

Learning from history—is it possible?

It doesn’t seem to happen, except briefly.

Perhaps the only way most people learn is through personal experience. Therefore the lessons of the past have to be relearned by each generation.

A depressing thought, but it explains a lot.

54 Responses to “Learning from history—is it possible?”

  1. davidt Says:

    History teaches us that people don’t learn from history.

  2. Baklava Says:

    Neo,

    Such a short post. But so true.

    I remember in 1988 having worked at Pizza Hut for 3 years and living paycheck to paycheck and being really poor. I remember thinking to myself if only I made twice as much things would be sOOO much better.

    Then in 1991 after being in the Navy for 3 years and making twice as much as Pizza Hut – I was very poor. I was living paycheck to paycheck and I was miserable.

    I realized what happened.

    People make their own bills. I had purchased a new car and had $5,000 of credit card debt. It was that year in 1991 that was pivotal for me.

    In 1991 I:
    1) Converted from liberalism to conservatism and it was a deep change as I went to the library researching stuff 3 times a week for a year.
    2) I sold my new car (taking a deep loss in value) and got a $500 car.
    3) I started paying down my credit card and got it to zero
    4) I started investing in mutual funds (about $250 per month at the time – which was a lot on an E-4 salary)

    Then again – I’ve learned deep lessons since that year. I remember a deep lesson I learned because of my divorce and watching “Changing Lanes” by Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson in October 2005. That lesson is – You can only control your own actions and words so you might as well make your own actions and words good because negative ones won’t help.

    Many people have a hard time with this. They think they can control others and there is a lot of friction as they exchange negative words with each other and are basically co-dependent.

    I’m far from perfect. I’ve much more learning to do. I have to choose better actions and words yet.

    As much as I have a say though – I would love to teach people personal responsibility. It is the root of this country’s salvation from liberalism I think. Personal responsibility is at the core.

    Unless you are a non-able-bodied person or elderly, we need to work hard, save money, invest, provide for ourselves, REDUCE our own bills, live within your means, etc.

    I, Baklava, do not have one DVD player (besides on my laptop), do not have a flat panel TV, live very frugally but because of my decisions and lifestyle and investments in my own education am having to bail out people who put zero down, got interest only loans, refinanced and cashed out and bought cars with their money (I’m driving a 10 year old minivan), have loads of material items.

    I, Baklava, am a conservative because I am personally resposible.

    I want liberals, conservatives, everyone to be personally responsible people also.

  3. Petitedov Says:

    It’s not only depressing, it’s frightening. What is even more sad is that people tend to ignore personal lessons as well and make the same mistakes over and over again.

  4. huxley Says:

    When I was a teenager learning about the Thirties and how they led to the WWII and the Holocaust, I was sure that we would never make those mistakes –appeasement to dictators, and antisemitism — again.

  5. SteveH Says:

    We humans have a way of dulling the pains of bygone days. This explains why the greatest generation simultaneously called the great depression a living hell and the good old days at the same time.

    I recall Jimmy Carter’s reign as an economic disaster for my pocket book while managing to make it a pretty darn good time in spite of it.

  6. Occam's Beard Says:

    Take heart, Baklava. I’m a geezer, but have young kids whom I’m taking care to teach basic values, viz.,

    character, family, and friends count, money and things do not;

    you don’t get what you wish for, you (might) get what you work for;

    when things are good, realize that they will later get bad, and plan accordingly (and vice versa);

    earning money and then spending it does not commute with spending money and then earning it; and

    the ability to delay or deny oneself gratification of desires is the hallmark of adulthood.

    I’ve taught them the basic principle of how to read credit card statements (importance is inversely proportional to font size), and how revolving credit works, by going through statements with them and calculating the difference between paying off within the grace period and carrying a balance.

    I also point out to them houses in foreclosure (here in SoCal, there are lots of examples) and the fancy cars, boats, and ATVs with “for sale” signs on them.

    The good news: they’ve fully absorbed all this, and internalized it. A while ago, when I offered to buy them a toy they were admiring a toy in a toy store, our older son looked at it for a minute, then said, “No, thanks, I don’t really need it” and put it back. Boy was I proud of him.

    Now if only others would do the same…

  7. Colin Says:

    Knowledge can be taught, codified, and improved upon. Wisdom is internal to each person, and can only be taught by experience. Since we only have 3 generations living at any given time, we’ve got a set upper limit to how mature and wise we are collectively as a nation and perhaps species.

    One more reason I hope Kurzweil is at least half right.

  8. Artfldgr Says:

    learnign from history is easy… see the prior maddoff post as to a key to it. (especially a distinction without a differnce – which reveals why diversity is the mantra).

    the other key is to not discount your results because you dont like them, dont beleive them, etc..

    if you didnt get to your position by reason, of course your not going to learn from history… your a cork in the water at the whim of the currents.

    when you look at who is refusing to learn from history, realize that they have been given tools to do so.

    they have had their culture and its transmission erased. so life lessons are unkown. they dont even know how to have children and work with them (justifies the socilaist end of taking them away).

    they have had principals of operation removed and repalced with ideology clue book. so they know what to do not by what reality teaches and they know, but what ideology dictates and they accept.

    we forget that movies like saw have a more nefarious purpose. actually several. and the thing we think about them is wrong. they do not desensitize, any more than capitalism is an ideology.

    one, they bring out the brutal class, and give them ideas… this destabilized and helps make the concept that we cant take care of ourselves take hold.

    but even more nefarious. without history and its validity of actions and what people have actually done. saw is implying that past a certin negative point its all fantasy or propagana.

    people dont really do that, they never really did. if its that bad, it must be fake./

    what it is, is we have had our schemas screwed with so that we dont develop honest ones…

    infact they have been randomly inverting things…

    we are the most free, but they are going to make us more free by taking away our ability to choose.

    gluttony is good, its opposite now bad

    and on and on..

    gigo…

    relativism is another one… if every distinction without a difference is only opinion, then the mind defines reality… soooo, what they think becomes reality… rather than reality tempers what they think.

    in essence, deluded people who live in a world that doesnt exist, by training, living, and developing the history that has been changed, the motives that have bene changes, the goods and ills have been changed, are in essence living in a world that doestn exist.

    in the REAL world, stalin was a tyrant and was a friend of hitler who he woudl victimize (after all hitler was the y ougner more brash newcomer, stalin was not a piker and his state had already had derzinsky and such for more than a decade)

    in the real world, there are spies, and actions.. there is all manner of things that go on, that are not in the worlds of the liberals.

    which history neo are you expecting them to learn from?

    the real one, or the stalinist enduced one that creates behavior in material objects to serve a political end?

    i have a very high iq… and i have been trying to point out that the guys that worked on these ideas also have a very high iq… but unlike me, are not very nice people. in fact, they are people with 170 iqs that are sociopatic, power hungry, and without morals using complete pragmatism.

    imagine fishing your populatino for young einstiens, and instead of teaching them physics, you first break them to induce sociopathy, then teach them what you have learned in psyops, despotism, power principals, and so forth… including all the nasty experiments that are unconciounable inthe west but imperiative to a state with no morals. and train them to be parasites to self fund themselves.

    then let them loose on the world …

    woudl it be any wonder that the population that lives with these people who are colluding and being coordinated would end up changed?

    its a PROCESS, not an ACCIDENT…

    the process has been evolved from the crude versions from the late 1800s, and early 1900s, but the pedigree is still there just as we can see chimps in us.

    one thing is SURE. obama and his people have read the books i ahve read, that others dont read.

    if it wasnt true, i would not have known the sasha malia connection. Alexander “Sasha” Pushkin, and
    malia the biographer…

    but now even leftists who were not communists but thought they were on the left are calling obama a fascist. (see Robert Scheer on NPR: don’t think the idea of nationalizing, as it’s now being called — which means bailing out these banks, setting them straight, then letting them go private again, which is the model that everybody is using, and the people who get screwed are the people whose retirement funds had common or preferred shares and they get wiped out, and these bankers come out richer than ever at the other end — that’s not a leftist idea and it’s not socialism. This is what we used to, in Comparative Economic Systems, call fascism. It’s putting government at the service of the big financial interests. That’s what happened in Italy, that’s what happened in Germany, that’s what happened in Japan.)

    want to see how much he is off?

    want to see the definition of populism?
    Populism is a discourse which supports “the people” versus “the elites.” Populism may involve either a philosophy urging social and political system changes and/or a rhetorical style deployed by members of political or social movements competing for advantage within the existing party system

    Populist movements can be precursors for, or building blocks for, fascist movements.[29][30][31] Conspiracist scapegoating employed by various populist movements can create “a seedbed for fascism.”[32] National socialism populism interacted with and facilitated fascism in interwar Germany.[33] In this case, distressed middle–class populists during the pre-Nazi Weimar period mobilized their anger at government and big business. The Nazis “parasitized the forms and themes of the populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through ideological appeals involving demagoguery, scapegoating, and conspiracism.”[34] According to Fritzsche:

    The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle–class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization….Against “unnaturally” divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonwealth, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public….[b]reaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people’s community…[35]

    so populism is another one of those distinctions without a difference. pragmatism, sociaism, feminism, communism, populism, fascism, maoism, stalinism, marxism, etc…

    lets see.. obama is a populist stalinist international socialist.. his parents met in a russian language course as they were deep core people in world socialism revolutionary movements.

    the uncle helped a coupe in kenya… indonesia had the biggest communist party outside of russia at the time she was there, but that ended fast with the sukarno thing i explained.

    given his love of this, he would have read about pushkin and hitler. he would not have read from the for consumption stuff thje public gets from cliff note pundits. but woud read the actual lives and biographies.

    he joins a front church whose paster alienates people. this keeps the rabble out and busy, while those who have to meet to coordinate their actions across lines and fronts can sit in a room while the sermon is going on, and do so. it also facilitates money too.

    he has daughers, one is sasha after pushkin, the other is malia after pushkins biographer.. he wins on a populist communist platform like his two heroes, pushkin and hitler.

    he loves phrases and things and is hinting what he is to those who understand history and can read it!!!!

    he loves roosevelt… but he was a populist too, with the progressive (communist) party of 1924…

    and he said he wants to “share the wealth”, which harkens back to populist huey longs share the wealth movement in 33-35.

    and huey was with C Coughlin… you know of social justice and other things?

    want to search obama and george wallace… another populist

    then ross perot, ralph nader, dennis kuchinic and all sharpton – all populists too…

    want to be even odder… the populist party in the 80s was resurectec by carto, and became the platorm for the kkk presidential run and david duke!!! the dems being the party of jim crow and kkk, shows that they are doing whats popular or seems to be.

    this from wiki on black populism:
    Between 1886 and 1898 Black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian laborers organized their communities to combat the rising tide of Jim Crow laws. As Black Populism asserted itself and grew into a regional force, it met fierce resistance from the white planter and business elite that, through the Democratic Party and its affiliated network of courts, militias, sheriffs, and newspapers, maintained tight control of the region. Violence against Black Populism was organized through the Ku Klux Klan, among other terrorist organizations designed to halt or reverse the advance of black civil and political rights.

    of course obamas freinds are stalinists and maoist and everyone speaks in code.

    after all, if he said plainly what he is now doing, would we have accepted the arguments?

    so, it was and is all lies for about 70 plus years

    but at what time was i able to show it?
    at what time was lying, spying, psyops, subversion, active measures, and all this stuff allowed into the discussion?

    if you dont know history, of course you cant use it to know whats going on..

    the fact that they change history, refuse to teach it, and so on.. PROVES that you CAN use history… and that if they didnt do that FIRST, they would nto be able to do anything else!!!

    you CAN learn from history, but first you have to LEARN history before you can use it!!!

  9. Mr. Frank Says:

    I don’t expect the average voter to have a knowledge of history given the sad state of education, but our leaders and the media should have a grasp of it. The lessons of the Great Depression with respect to taxing the wealthy, tariffs, and government spending are being either denied or ignored by our leaders and the liberal media.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    Ouspensky “letters from russia” is a good read if you have it… (american thinker remindd me of it).

    its time to start reading the books and stories from the people who were livig under this.

    while its not a map on how to navigate thorugh a mine field with ease… its at least a primer for undersatnding what the lend mines will be, and to walk cautiosly around them and to avoid them as much as possible.

    but they will NOT be avoidable… random actions will freeze us from moving… conflicting laws will prevent us from action… etc… this is the core of red terror… not the punishments that were made up after the terror was implimented.

    I tried to link so some of these… but no one went to look.. i tried to tease some with the texts… but they were too long for the adhd society… i have been trying to teach what they teach… notice how i keep scaling down?

    bella dodde. freida utley… durante… soliztznen… etc..

    It is now two years since I last saw the New Age, and I do not know what is being said and thought and written in England and what you know. I can only guess. During this period we here have lived through so many marvels that I honestly pity everybody who has not been here, everybody who is living in the old way, everybody who is ignorant of what we now know. You do not even know the significance of the words ‘living in the old way’. You have not the necessary perspective; you cannot get away from yourselves and look at yourselves from another point of view. But we did so long ago. To understand what ‘living in the old way’ means, you would need to be here, in Russia, and to hear people saying, and yourself, too, from time to time, ‘Shall we ever live again in the old way? . . .’ For you this phrase is written in a quite unintelligible language -do not try to understand it! You will surely begin to think that it is something to do with the re-establishment of the old regime or the oppression of the working classes, and so on. But in actual fact it means something very simple. It means, for example: When shall we be able to buy shoe-leather again, or shaving-soap, or a box of matches ?

    But, no, it is no use. I feel sure you will not understand me.

    i have said the same thing…

  11. Baklava Says:

    Occam,

    I take heart but so do wish that more Americans did not feel that somebody else owes them anything.

    If you want something you should structure your life and earn it.

    My first house I bought in 1997 and I’m not upside down in value.

    I’ve mentioned here that I’m purchasing another home right now. Closing date is March 10th. The purcahse price is 55% less than the value was January 2006.

    I can NEVER understand why somebody else should be paid my money when I was able to save and invest when I only had a salary of $10K per year (as an E-4 in the Navy).

    You MAKE YOUR OWN BILLS.

    I have educated myself. My investments in my education came from myself (not my parents, scholarships, loans, or grants).

    I have furthered myself and anybody who is able-bodied and not elderly should be taught the virtue of earning their own living.

    There are two reasons why I state these things:
    1) Policies created by the government now are rewarding poor personal choices and creating more dependency
    2) Policies created by the government now will actually hurt the private sector.

    The policies that should be implemented should:
    1) Reward good personal choices of saving, investment, educating and advancing
    2) Help the private sector grow (tax the private sector less)

  12. Highlander Says:

    Is learning from history possible? Absolutely. But you have to read it. You have to study it. You have to be taught it. Remembering has to be given societal value. That is certainly not the case today.

    To a liberal, the past is of value only as a negative comparison to where he would have us go. And because liberals have taken control of education in this country, they have guaranteed an ignorant and pliant cadre of followers for their quixotic dreams. History is dumbed-down, revised, subverted and, above all, diminished for the utopian vision. After all, what can the past have to teach us when it is the future that is important? It’s about our progression isn’t it? Our ancestors have nothing useful to teach us – they were lesser beings. Hence we are condemned to endlessly repeat our mistakes.

  13. dane Says:

    Don’t know if anyone will get down this far, but in the spirit of “learning from history” here is a short clip of Milton Friedman giving Phil Donahue a lesson from September 1979 – the end of the disastrous Carter years and just before Reagan put a lot of Friedman’s ideas into practice. If I’m not mistaken I believe about 20 million jobs were created during Reagan’s tenure.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    for those who might now be interested in reading things like this… let me make it a bit easier.

    Freda Utleys work is online and free, so there is no excuse
    Bella Dodds book is also online and free, so there is also no real excuse

    The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn
    is the classic, and its not cheap compared to pulp

    i would include the works of Ouspensky (Letters from Russia (1921) by Peter Damian Ouspensky (1878-1947)), as most of his stuff is really interesting and not about politics but physics.

    Yevgeniya Ginsburg and Lev Rozgan, wrote memoirs of their stay in the gulags (but i got my lessons up close and private from my family – as horrible as the books are in what they describe, the truth is much worse!!! (imagine SAW as a lifestyle defended by the state for their special workers)).

    Nadezhda Mandelstam’s wrote about her hsubaand and stuff (much like utley).

    conversations of composer Dmitri Shostakovich with Solomon Volkov titled “testimony” also.

    there are literally hundreds.

    ouspenskies work in letters is only about 60 pages. he was a mathemetician, jhournalist, philospher, and mystic. he associated himself with gurdjieff, and he wrote the pages during the tumoult of russias CIVIL war that usured in and gave birth to communism.

    he tried to flee st petersburg, when the coup detat erupted, but could not get out till 1920..when he was able to get out through a british corridor… (which is why the russas dont want deliveries through their terroroty, there is historical lessons we forgot there)

    here is what someone else said about letters. leading to the excerpt i placed above explaining why… (and why i cant convince people. its beause the severity of what happened goes beyond the language ability to describe it. with lefties challenging even punctuation, you can never get that far to teach em).

    In his role as mathematician and philosopher, Ouspensky had written about the fourth dimension, so he had some experience in trying to come to terms rhetorically with odd notions and fantastic, counterintuitive theses. The first of the five installments of Letters from Russia establishes the book’s pervasive, nightmarish tone as Ouspensky describes upheavals of ordinary life so gross and brutal that he must search out a new language of indirection by which to convey them to the blissfully uninitiated. “During this period,” the first letter begins ironically, “we here [in Russia] have lived through so many marvels that I honestly pity everybody who has not been here….

    musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky described the complete dislocation of ordinary life within days of the Communist Party coup and he stressed the difficulty of describing the conditions of a society in a state of ideologically driven civil war in ordinary terms to people who have known nothing but a steady daily routine all their lives. When a horse pulling a cart in a Black Sea coastal town died from exhaustions, dozens of people leapt on the carcass immediately with knives to carve away a morsel of hunger-alleviating flesh. Bodies lay everywhere, victims of starvation, or gangs, or political executions. Slonimsky too exited through Novorossiysk.

    ruta U in the book i suggested as a read instead of the nicer diary of anne frank, described how a bloated blue horse washed up all rotted and they ate it.

    today yuo can read news articles of dark real estate agents who murder people to sell their homes, and others who acquired and never lost the taste for human flesh from these previous periods. the most prolific serial killer recently caught (the chess board killer i think) was a cannibal. hannibal lecters character grew up in the modern version in chechynia (which made no sense given his age!)

    the genesis of Russia’s misery lies in Bolshevism. He devises what he calls his “Law of Opposite Ends” to encompass, as much as can be done in an abstraction, the social and existential chaos of the Lenin-Trotsky scheme to impose socialism by main force and beat all dissent from the project into a bloody pulp. “The people who are now struggling to bring about the re-creation of a great, united, indivisible and so on Russia are gathering results very little resembling what they are striving for.” Or what they claim to be striving for. The abolition of profit has resulted in rampant “speculation” so that “prices of all products have risen by twenty, fifty, a hundred, or six hundred times.” Using the railway system by which one formerly and conveniently traveled wherever one wanted to go now means waiting endlessly at the station and again at innumerable, inexplicable sidings and checkpoints and paying a bribe to every porter and conductor.

    While “Russia was once famous for its literature and art… all that disappeared long ago” and now “literature, art and science have all been abolished by the Bolsheviks, and they remain abolished.” They stand abolished because to survive people must concentrate their whole vital power on tasks like locating a pair of boot-soles or a book of matches; as well as because ideological regimes find the freedom in art intimidating and move to quash esthetic expression.

    Ouspensky reminds his readers that they cannot comprehend his language; and that they therefore, in respect of the term Bolshevism, “do not know what this word means.” In the second letter, he tries to render the meaning. Bolshevism, says Ouspensky, is not, as most people mistakenly think, “a political system that can be discussed.” Bolshevism is rather “something old” that the Russian people have known under many names, most poignantly as “pougachevchina,” a reference to Pougachev, “a Ural Cossack who pretended to be the deceased Emperor Peter III… and for a time succeeded in seizing half of Russia.” Pougachev’s men, like the Mongol Horde, plundered, burned, and lynched. He was a barbarian, not a civilized man. In the third letter, Ouspensky adds that, “Bolshevism is the cause of everything that happens now in Russia.” It “begins with loud and fierce denunciations,” it “promises the people all they ever dreamt of,” and its officialdom “consists in its greater part in neurasthenics.”

    At the Tiflis railway terminal, where Ouspensky stopped (or rather was halted) on his way from St. Petersburg, Bolshevism manifested itself as “terrifying cries and shouts… heard on the platform, quickly followed by several shots.” A soldier told passengers that he and his comrades had executed a “thief.” By morning they had executed three more thieves. The abuse of language is characteristic. In any case, shooting summed up Bolshevism, which, having “no constructive program,” could only destroy and did so prodigiously and gleefully. Ouspensky anticipates Solzhenitsyn in identifying Bolshevism (Marxism) as a pernicious German invention seized on by Lenin and his followers to justify their orgy of violence against a world they hated because it had the temerity to exist apart from their desires and wishes. “As a general rule,” writes Ouspensky in the fourth letter, “Bolshevism based itself on the worst forces underlying Russian life.”

    Ouspensky repeats a refrain in all five letters that Bolshevism, being barbarism with a fancy vocabulary, constitutes a threat not only in Russia, but anywhere, hence also everywhere, because it is a destabilizing condition of ordered life, so arduously achieved, always to carry with it “barbarian forces existing inside [the] society, hostile to culture and civilization.” I could not help connecting a recent remark made by Sean Gabb in a Brussels Journal entry with the foregoing words by Ouspensky.

    In a discussion of “hate speech” laws and their selective enforcement, Gabb notes that, “the soviet socialists and the national socialists kept control by the arbitrary arrest and torture or murder of suspected opponents,” but that these methods are currently “not… acceptable in England or in the English world.” Nevertheless, writes Gabb, censorious speech-legislation involving intimidating criminalization of certain words or verbal attitudes “has nothing really to do with politeness,” but is, rather, “about power.” So it is as well in the United States and Canada. Wherever governments and elites seek to control expression, whether or not as Gabb observes it has to do ostensibly with “diversity and inclusiveness,” the real agenda is to achieve “the unlimited power to plunder and enslave us, while scaring us into the appearance of gratitude for our dispossession.”

    I would say that “hate crime” and “hate speech” laws represent a trial balloon of totalitarian methods. Such methods are barbarous. They betray the basic decency of the Western achievement. They take root in “the worst forces,” as Ouspensky says, “underlying our life.” Now “ought” is a counterfactual word. But it strikes me that if history taught only one lesson to the civilized it would be that as soon as any visibly power-hungry group succeeds in an agenda of intimidation, no matter how minor, sensible people dedicated to their own freedom ought to respond with all necessary resistance until the aggressors have themselves been intimidated into a retreat. Better indeed to quash such attempts before their first success, but that is a more difficult proposition. Ouspensky’s book explains what happens when timidity rather than vigor is the keynote of response to internal barbarism. So does a great library of other books, all of which came later, however, than Ouspensky’s.

    to read the rest go here. http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/3792

    and note that even these stories are toned down!!!

    that is, they go way beyond the movie SAW in things done… but so far out that we have moved beyond language and its ability to describe it.

    hope you all paid attention to what happens when the economic system is removed…

    as they are doing now…

    after all… a person who has seen a duck before has little problem knowing what a duck is… its only those that never have seen them who wonder what an oliphant is like…

  15. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    We humans have a way of dulling the pains of bygone days.

    No, that’s not it. We come to the notion that anything that happened before we where born is nothing to conerned with, and that history began on the day we where born. Every generation believes that they invented sex and babies, and they’re the best and brightest to ever stride the land.

    So of course, we stumble into the same pot holes that those before us stumbled into. Hubris and ignorance are very costly, and very abundant.

  16. Gray Says:

    Artfldgr: learnign from history is easy… see the prior maddoff post as to a key to it. (especially a distinction without a differnce – which reveals why diversity is the mantra).

    the other key is to not discount your results because you dont like them, dont beleive them, etc..

    But you’ve never learned from the history of criticism of your overly long and convoluted posts.

    The only thing anyone has ever learned from history is that no one ever learns anything from history!

  17. Oblio Says:

    Lots of people can learn from their own experiences, though some never do. A wise person learns from the experiences of other people.

  18. Occam's Beard Says:

    One other thing I’ve taught my kids: whenever people start saying that the old rules no longer apply, that everything is different now, pull your coat over your head and run for the door, because the roof is about to cave in.

    I think that this works because people start dismissing the old rules when they know they’re in contravention of them, and are trying to reassure themselves that the law of gravity was repealed.

  19. br549 Says:

    I am currently learning from the present. Presently, I believe Obama is totally drunk on something, and doesn’t care about a second term, his own old age, his own kids’ future, or is out of his mind. The Drudge report headlines are more scary than any horror movie I have ever seen.

    By the way, I would like to state openly and before all that I am happy as a clam at high tide to see newspaper upon newspaper hit the skids. I hope the same happens at CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC and CNN. As well as a host of magazines. If it wasn’t for Soros dropping 15 million on Huffington, Huffington Post would have hit the skids by now too.

  20. Oblio Says:

    OB, now that I am officially a fogey, I sometimes feel like a walking store of aphorisms (or a Polonius). But I just keep at it, and now my boys quote them back to me, and more importantly, to put them into practice. It seems to help them, because a lot of the old rules really work.

  21. D. B. Light Says:

    It is naive to suppose that history is a store of “lessons” that, if learned, provide an adequate guide to the present or future. History is replete with lessons, most of them contradictory or mutually exclusive. Each writer, reader, or teacher chooses from that immense store those things that confirm his or her biases. There is difficulty ascertaining the “facts” of a situation, and even if there is agreement on the facts the significance or meaning of those facts is inevitably a matter of dispute. Steeping yourself in historical studies does not resolve these difficulties. For professional historians their field of study consists of endless dialogue and disputation, not the revelation of some transcendental “truth”. Ultimately the study of history is an interpretive act in which each participant searches for and hopefully finds a usable past.

  22. ELC Says:

    Re: Baklava. Many people have a hard time with this. They think they can control others…. Indeed. And one of them now occupies the most powerful position in the Western World and is filling as many subordinate positions as he can with folks who are just like him.

  23. Tom Says:

    Obama=Chavez, based on history so recent you can still see it in your rear-view mirror.

    The utility of history is in its profiling. That is of course not acceptable today.

  24. FredHjr Says:

    I think Mambo Chimp would be insulted at being compared with Obama/Obonga. But, yeah, I do see some parallels with Venezuela. Learning from history assumes that the human beings involved are literate and critical enough to be capable of proper self-examination. That is a rarity these days.

  25. Baklava Says:

    It doesn’t help our cause to do the chimp talk or Chavez comparison.

  26. Oblio Says:

    DB Light, your post is really shocking. Are you one of these “professional” (by which I assume you mean mainly academic) historians you describe, and if so, do you spend your time in such post-modern disputation?

    You cannot mean that there is no certainty at any level in the historical record, or that there no “lessons” (in the sense of conclusions or implications) that anyone could draw that would be valid and broadly acceptable. You surely cannot mean that there are no “facts” at all.

    Perhaps you mean that people often ransack history for stories to confirm their own biases. That is unarguable, no matter the agenda such people promote. Nor is it arguable whether people will draw differing and perhaps invalid conclusions from any given record; I observe above that some people can’t seem to learn much even from their own experiences, and I would be willing to bet that a fair number of professional historians fall into that category as well.

    Still, it seems to me to ask and expect very little of a professional discipline if we assert that its entire output is only and can only be a mass of conflicting opinion conditioned by the in-going biases of the various researchers and their desire to find stories that are “usable” for some unnamed purpose. If that is the case, if all conclusions and implications are so epistomologically suspect that we can dismiss them as representing merely the embodiment of bias, there is not much need for historical researches at all. One might as well advocate remaining in ignorance and taking comfort from the glow of one’s current attitudes. Clearly, I do not share that view.

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t consider is a waste of time to study history and reflect on context, conditions, and choices that people have made, and the consequences that have followed. As a practicing futurist, I find that the close study of history provides invaluable insights.

  27. Oblio Says:

    DB Light, since responding above, I have reason to believe that you are reflecting your professional training and offering caution against believing that the “lessons” of history are clear, unambiguous, and directly applicable to other cases. Fair enough.

    But I don’t think the readers here are naive enough to take our lessons of history from our old junior high textbooks, or that we would expect anyone to accept our conclusions analysis if we did.

  28. TmjUtah Says:

    I know exactly how a resident of Minsk or Leningrad or Moscow felt watching the Wall come down back in 1989.

    The difference is I see the dark coming down, not receding.

  29. Baklava Says:

    Dark is the absence of light

    DB light is the absence of ————

    :)

    Just being humorous

  30. Jim C. Says:

    History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, ‘Can’t you remember anything I told you?’ and lets fly with a club.

    –attributed to John W. Campbell, editor, Analog/Astounding Science Fiction magazine.

  31. Tatterdemalian Says:

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man,
    There are only four things certain since the Social Progress began:
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit, and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire,
    And when all is said and done, and the Brave New World begins,
    Where all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water shall wet us, as surely as Fire shall burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings shall with terror and slaughter return.

    – Rudyard Kipling, The Gods of the Copybook Headings

  32. armchair pessimist Says:

    We Americans have a particularly hard time with this lesson. It’s our inborn national optimism that everything will just get better and better. History’s heavy thumb can’t reach as far as America, nosirree!

  33. Gray Says:

    Ultimately the study of history is an interpretive act in which each participant searches for and hopefully finds a usable past.

    Then why bother studying it if everyone just makes up their own ‘history’?

  34. Baklava Says:

    Is it possible for liberals? ;)

  35. Artfldgr Says:

    Gray,
    But you’ve never learned from the history of criticism of your overly long and convoluted posts.

    and you never realized that you arent speical enough to dictate. and that all it takes for such lambrained control freaks to get control is that a good man listens and complies with them rather than opposing such coercion in a free state.

    i did learn history..

    i learned that an ass like you can only succeed by OTHER MEANS.. refute my points… debate the point, and if am wrong, correct the history, win by debate and the will and strength of your person and argument. (or get out of the damn ring, and stop wasting space that others with more to contribute will use more wisely than to exert control upon others)

    you, lee, misu, and others who would do well to learn to be competent people… in the near future, your lack of competency will be challenged, and you will come up lacking.. and its not my fault or responsibility..

    have a nice day gray.

  36. Lee Says:

    “But I don’t think the readers here are naive enough to take our lessons of history from our old junior high textbooks,”.

    Actually, I have an old collection of history books called The Pictorial Encyclopedia of American History published for children, and I find it more accurate than Encarta or Wiki, for example, when compared to more credible and established sources.
    The thing I find laughable is most people who say history is written by the “victors” tend to be history writers, and usually “revisionists” at that.
    History will be harder and harder to learn from, because now it’s becoming more like “legend” thanks to the revisionists.

  37. Lee Says:

    Boy, Art, the paranoia must be really heavy today. Gray didn’t say you were wrong, or a loonie (like I do), he just said you might try a little courtesy yourself once in a while, and be pithy.
    You act like you have mastered the ancient Welsh martial art of Llam Gooch, where you identify, seek out, and destroy your enemies before they know you even exist.

  38. Perfected democrat Says:

    Fools never learn…

  39. Oldflyer Says:

    Since I think more superficially than most on this site, I put the notion of “you only learn from your own experience in the context of aviation”. And in that context I would stay well clear of the pilot or mechanic who believes that maxim.

    I do not believe that the founders of this blessed country would have bothered to take the risk if they had not been well-grounded in history. We may say that they designed a grand experiment, and they did; but they designed it with a thorough understanding of the successes and failures of previous governing experiments. In fact they embarked on the experiment because they had historical knowledge that told them that rule by the privileged few, whether through divine right or any other convenient right, would invariably degenerate into tyranny.

    History may tell us that humans all too often do not learn and often draw the wrong lessons when they do try to learn, but I do not accept the basic premise. I would rather have leadership that has a rich understanding of history, as well as a personal history of solid experience.

  40. Perfected democrat Says:

    “Since I think more superficially than most on this site,… I would rather have leadership that has a rich understanding of history, as well as a personal history of solid experience.”

    Superficial thinking? Not really, and without expounding on the richly illustrative and potentially enlightening available history of the 20th century, as well as even a cursory, but honest, observation of the shallow personal achievements of the Dem’s current leader(s), I would say your comments are quite profound, and in a refreshing down to earth context, Oldflyer. The founders were obviously not “fools”, if one were to ascribe to them the attributes of current day “politics”, I wonder which they would most reflect, red or blue? Trick question for “progressive blondes”….

  41. D. B. Light Says:

    Oblio,

    You raise some interesting points. Let me explain.

    Yes, I am an academic historian [now retired from teaching] and my perspective does reflect my professional training and experience.

    I never meant to imply that nothing can be known for certain. There are obviously levels of certainty that can be attached to evidence. Historians debate these and evaluate them constantly. And there is broad consensus on a wide range of historical “facts”. What matters, though, is how these facts are arranged, the emphasis given to them, and the meaning attached to them.

    Yes, people do ransack history for personal or partisan purposes. Professional historians are not blameless in this regard. Some subscribe to self-serving “narratives” or allow their investigations to be shaped by theory to the point where they are no longer being honest.

    To some extent this is unavoidable. Historians are human beings and as such vulnerable to all the foibles of humanity. One of the understandings I have carried away from my own study of history is that there is no such thing as a disinterested authority, and that includes historians.

    However, serious scholarship can serve as a corrective to the wilder flights of fancy. Professional historians are expected to hold to professional standards. These include an attempt to be inclusive [to consider the entire range of evidence pertaining to a specific area of research], to be fair [to attempt to understand the past on its own terms], and to relate your findings to current scholarly discourse. Also, professional scholarship is routinely subjected to rigorous criticism from qualified experts in the field [peer review].

    These standards do enforce some degree of reliability on professional scholarship, but they are by no means infallible. There is a lot of bad but popular history being written, and much of the good stuff is published in arcane journals and never gets to a popular audience.

    Aside from serving as a corrective to fanciful narratives, the value of historical study is to provide context to the present. It helps us to understand and to find meaning as we try to cope with the world around us. It also broadens our range of experience. We can see how other people in other times dealt with situations that may to some extent resemble our current circumstances. I am, however, extremely skeptical regarding the utility of history as a guide to the future. Historians don’t seem to have a better record of prediction than people from other fields of inquiry, and none are very good at it. In this regard I would recommend: Peter E. Tetlock, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton University Press: (2006).

    Finally, the study of history, does provide a mechanism for thinking deeply and comprehensively about matters. As you say, it provides insight. Is it superior to other disciplines? I don’t know. It is the one I have found most useful.

    I might add that my reservations about the subjectivity of history are hardly confined to the junior high school level. Even a cursory study of historiography shows that at all levels, even the highest, historians in all times produce narratives that broadly conform to their contemporary concerns and biases and that the historical record is in a constant state of flux. But then, can’t that be said of all human knowledge?

    Lee, history is always being revised. Such has always been the case. New perspectives, new evidence, new concerns and also [admittedly] careerist ambitions, all play a part in changing our view of the past. Historians are patricides. Each generation rises by slaying its parents’ perceptions.

  42. Oblio Says:

    Mr. Light, thank you for your kind and thoughtful response. I agree with you that some methods employed to assess history are better and some are worse, and that historians are fallible like anyone else. All things being equal, the humility you display is a fine example to all of us, and especially for anyone who thinks they can know everything about history. As they say, the past is a different country.

    I will quibble with you about the utility of history for understanding the future. For me, the point of studying the past is not to make simple extrapolations or to project repetitions, but to understand the cause and effects of decision-making in all of its context and complexity. History adds depth and breadth to the analysis. Looking forward, you cannot anticipate everything, but if you can anticipate more than the conventional wisdom (especially a conventional wisdom that has no historical memory), you are in a position to plan and act relatively wisely.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. What should we be reading?

  43. D. B. Light Says:

    Right now I’m reading Niall Ferguson’s “The Ascent of Money” which is especially pertinent to our current problems. He’s an excellent writer who understands the subject as well as anyone. I also liked his earlier “Pity of War” and “The Wars of the World” although they take him away from his specialty which is the history of finance. In the war books he is writing as an informed journalist. With “Ascent of Money” he is writing as a recognized expert on the subject.

    Dan Howe’s “What Hath God Wrought” is an excellent rethinking of major themes in the period between the War of 1812 and 1848. This is a good counterpoint to Sean Wilentz’ “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln” which covers pretty much the same period from a very different perspective. Taken together they illustrate how two superb and celebrated historians can view the same “facts” yet come to very different conclusions about their meaning.

  44. Oblio Says:

    The Ascent of Money is on my bedside table right now. Thanks for Howe and Wilentz.

    I think The Pity of War deserves a lot more credit than you are giving it. Perhaps you are aware of some methodological defects in it that escaped my notice. To describe it as the product of journalism rather than history is very harsh indeed.

    I am not in the field, but it seems to me that no historian of the period can ignore Ferguson’s arguments and consider himself to be meeting the professional test of “inclusiveness” that you name above. The force of Ferguson’s insight is breathtaking as he relates the practice of war to (yes) finance, economic policy, organizational behavior, intellectual history, and popular culture.

    You seem to have very strong opinions about “professionalism,” specialization, the weaknesses of “popular” history, and even the importance of “peer” review. Perhaps you have opinions about the relative importance of primary research versus interpretative essays. To me, your language suggests attitudes (and perhaps biases) that are related to the sociology of the profession, and a full career experience of what determines status within the profession.

    That would not be unusual. I hear people say that “art” is whatever is produced by “artists,” that is to say, by people who can get other people to believe that they are artists. This is an example of the genitive fallacy if ever I heard one. Surely, it is exactly the other way around.

    We hear hear “journalists” sniffing at the lack of qualification of correspondents who never went to J-School, but who actually have a lot more knowledge and experience in the relevant domain that the journalist will ever have, and who can explain it better. Remember that lawyers moonlighting on a blog really broke the CBS/Texas Air National Guard hoax in 2004.

    We hear that the “truth” about climate change is whatever the “consensus” of “experts” says it is.

    In my experience, you can count on the experts to know something, but what they don’t know is usually orders of magnitude greater than what they do know. In my field (economics), I remember working with a committee headed by a Nobel laureate and senior professors from Harvard and Columbia. What made working with the Nobel winner so refreshing, besides the depth of his insight, was his humility about the limits of what was known and knowable. This was, of course, coincident with a massive professional ego.

    We should be wary of the dangers of credentialism when we consult experts for their opinion. Very often, they don’t know any more than anyone else, and very often they are slaves to the dogma of thinkers long dead, or to the prejudices of their youth. In the sociology of science, there is an apt phrase: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

    Luckily for all of us, Einstein’s 1905 work wasn’t dismissed as the product of of a patent clerk who couldn’t get a proper teaching job in a university.

  45. Oblio Says:

    Great, and typically brilliant, lecture from Ferguson here:

    http://canada2020.ca/2009/02/06/niall-ferguson-there-will-be-blood/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Email+marketing+software&utm_content=581829301&utm_campaign=Canada+2020+Speakers+Series%3a+Drew+Wesen+_+dkyktr&utm_term=video+of+the+event

    Phrase “lessons from history” occurs during Q&A, offered by a self-described historian.

  46. D. B. Light Says:

    Of course I’m biased. There is no such thing as a disinterested authority, and I include myself in that statement.

    Ferguson is quite good on the financing of war and, to my mind, makes an original contribution there, but he has a tendency to overstate his cases in order to make them more “breathtaking”. That’s good for selling books, but it can undermine trust in his judgment. I am not ignoring his work; neither am I accepting it uncritically. He’s a fine writer and a good historian [and also an interesting journalist].

    You misunderstand my position on expertise. I am quite critical of today’s credentialing system, of peer review, and our cult of expertise. I thought I had made it clear that, even at the highest professional levels, the judgment of historians is shaped by contemporary concerns and interests as well as personal biases.

    And expertise is no guarantee of wisdom or balance. Some of the most stupid things I have ever heard said were uttered by senior scholars sitting in Ivy League seminars. Some of the most unfortunate statements I have ever uttered have taken place in such settings. One can get caught up in the moment.

    Still, there is some value to expertise derived from direct involvement. To return to Mr. Ferguson’s case. I would respect his opinion on the importance of seventeenth-century banking innovations, but would be skeptical of any suggestions he might have on how to conduct a military campaign. The former he has actually researched; the latter he knows from reading second or third hand sources.

    That being said, I will now reverse my argument to say that it is possible to rely too strongly on primary evidence and hands-on experience which can be very limited in scope. A recent case will illustrate my point.

    Journalists and politicians, relying upon the expertise of beltway policymakers, proclaimed that President Bush’s policies with regard to Iraq and the Middle East [what they called the "Bush Doctrine"] constituted a sharp break with American tradition and condemned it as such. It took an historian, John Gaddis up at Yale, to point out that President Bush’s unilateralism and interventionism was very much in line with the broad sweep of American military and diplomatic traditions. Gaddis’ broad historical perspective served as a useful corrective to the narrow perspective of the journalists and practitioners in the field, whose experience was confined almost exclusively to the post-Vietnam era. They were making a broad historical argument and in that case a professional historian’s judgment turned out to be superior. And, of course, other historians immediately rose to argue with Gaddis’ conclusions. As I said in an earlier post, history is an endless dialogue.

    So what can a consumer of history do? Simply read widely, consider a broad range of opinions, be aware of your sources’ and your own biases and take them into account, and try not to be too dogmatic about your conclusions.

  47. Oblio Says:

    That’s interesting. I read Gaddis’ The Cold War: A New History and found it a tiresome rehash of the conventional wisdom of the foreign policy establishment. The “newness” of it completely escaped me. Of course, I am not surprised to find out that the Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale had a broader perspective of history than a bunch of civil servants with a political agenda or a bunch of political scribblers, who are notorious for their ignorance. If he hadn’t, Yale should have sacked him or rusticated him or something.

    With respect to Ferguson, don’t get me wrong: I don’t accept what he says uncritically at all, and I have told him so when I think he is wrong, in particularly where I think his judgment is defective. But I think it no bad thing for a public intellectual (and that is what he is) to take bold and provocative positions, and selling books is not a bad thing if ceteris paribus, it gets people to think and and talk about history.

    I would be interested in an example of Ferguson overstating his case so much that it caused you question his judgment, or perhaps more to the point, his professionalism as a historian. Personally, I think his real expertise is not in financial history, but in the behavior of large scale dynamic systems. That is why investment banks hire him to talk and why some are them are wishing they had listened to his warnings in 2005 that the markets were pricing securities as though there was no such thing as risk, and that this was an extremely dangerous assumption.

    After all this to-ing and fro-ing, I’m not sure exactly where you stand on the relative importance of professionalism and specialization in historical interpretation. On the one hand, the professionals and specialists might do a better job at it than the amateurs and generalists. On the other hand, they might not. As I suggested before, this is not the warmest of praise for the profession.

    In any event, all of this bears on Neo’s original assertion, that there are lessons one can learn from history. I still contend that it is not naive to think that she is right. I also think that your advice for consumers is right on the mark–and we are all consumers.

  48. Gray Says:

    i learned that an ass like you can only succeed by OTHER MEANS.. refute my points… debate the point, and if am wrong, correct the history, win by debate and the will and strength of your person and argument.

    I can’t refute your points. You have good points, and I agree with them. Your cup of points simply runneth over.

    As I’ve said before, I enjoy your posts, but sometimes they are hard to sift through to get to the nub of your point.

    I’m not stupid, just occasionally lazy.

  49. Gray Says:

    Gaddis’ broad historical perspective served as a useful corrective to the narrow perspective of the journalists and practitioners in the field, whose experience was confined almost exclusively to the post-Vietnam era.

    I appreciate DB Light’s clarification and exposition of his previous post. The above answers the critcism I was forming.

    I’m sick of seeing all of history shown through the post-modern lens of ‘peoples struggle’ and class warfare.

    I’m sick of seeing all of history deconstructed through the mill of Marxism. It’s dishonest.

  50. D. B. Light Says:

    Oblio,

    Gaddis’ work on the Cold War was a response to previous historiography. In the fifties and sixties diplomatic historians had portrayed the Cold War as a response to Soviet aggression and the spread of international communism. The points of reference were WWII and the defense of democracy against dictatorship and the Truman Doctrine. Post-Vietnam historians reversed this perspective, arguing that the Cold War was a response to American aggression and the attempts of Western powers to preserve an obsolete and oppressive colonial system. Gaddis originally tried to balance these two perspectives, apportioning blame for the Cold war equally between the US and the USSR. At the time this was considered novel. Then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, as Soviet bloc archives were opened to Western scholars, Gaddis revised his thinking and asserted that the Soviet Union indeed bore the primary responsibility for the Cold War. This, at the time, was indeed new thinking. Now, with the rise of Putin and in the wake of the Iraq adventure, charges of American imperialism are re-emergine and Stalin’s reputation is being rehabilitated in Russia and among anti-American scholars in the West. As I said before — it is an endless dialogue as the past is reinterpreted in the light of the present.

    Regarding Ferguson’s penchant for overstatement — there was a period, not so long ago, when he was arguing for a reconstruction of the old British imperial system with Washington, rather than London, at its center. His argument was that of course America is a global empire, has always been imperialistic, and now that it is the global hegemon Americans should take seriously the business of running the world. He even advocated the formation of an American colonial department to administer our far flung dependents. Not even the neo-cons were advocating anything like that.

    Iraq forced some rethinking on his part and he began to retreat from his “imperialism is good” stance. Now in the wake of the rise of Obama and the world financial crisis he is positing a new “Age of Upheaval”.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4681&print=1

    Ferguson is as much a showman as a scholar. His instinct is always to go for the most dramatic and provocative position possible. This is good insofar as it sparks discussion and thought, but his work, outside the realm of financial history where his expertise is unquestioned, is more argumentative than authoritative.

    On the utility of professional historians. It seems to me that they can serve four important functions. 1) they can contextualize discourse, placing it within the framework of ongoing and evolving debate. 2) they can correct the mis-use of history by the cherry-pickers. 3) They, like Ferguson, can spark interesting and informed discourse on important matters [essentially this is a journalistic function, but some historians are damn good at it]. 4) They can construct narratives that provide useful contexts within which to frame ongoing disputes and to justify positions taken within them.

    An example of the last point: At the time most historians interpreted the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal within traditional Progressive framework — as an episode in the continuing struggle between the haves and have-nots. This was a congenial narrative for the Roosevelt administration which posed as the defender of the common man. Hoover, himself a progressive icon, was recast as a clueless reactionary.

    Then, mid-century liberals who embraced the ideal of a planned economy reinterpreted the depression in Keynesian terms, suggesting that the New Deal was a coherent program that illustrated the utility of Keynesian thought for the effective management of the American economy. Hoover was portrayed as the hapless epitome of an outmoded voluntarism.

    In the Sixties and seventies radical historians, inspired by contemporary unrest, argued that Thirties America was on the verge of revolution and that FDR was in fact a reactionary who took action to preserve Capitalist and corporate dominance by smoothing out the harshest aspects of capitalist exploitation.

    Then during the Reagan revolution other historians portrayed the New Deal as the actions of naive and incompetent ideologues who actually prolonged the suffering with their pathetic attempts to manage the economy. The lesson they drew was that attempts to directly manage the economy were ultimately futile and damaging as well as oppressive.

    Today we are seeing a resurgence of neo-Keynesian thought which, not surprisingly, supports the view of the current administration.

    Historiography, like all human endeavors, is ultimately subjective. By all means read history, it will enrich your perspectives on things; draw from it whatever lessons you find congenial; find inspiration or correction in the history you read. But don’t view it as a source of disinterested authority, a repository of objective truth.

    Regarding Marxist historiography. It is not without value. Several years [actually decades..., gasp!] ago at an academic conference one of the panelists was asked point blank whether he was a Marxist. His response was “I ask many of the same questions Marx did; I don’t always get the same answers.” That seemed to me then and now to be a pretty good position. Marxists do have some pretty useful tools in their boxes and I have no problem with using them. I do, however, disagree strongly with many of their conclusions.

    I think that part of the problem “Gray” identifies lies in the fact that most of today’s commentariat. especially those who have ascended to positions of real influence, were educated in the sixties and seventies when the essential dialogue in the historical profession was an argument between liberals and radicals [moderates and conservatives were pretty much cut out of the debate]. Textbooks, which always lag well behind professional discourse, reflected that bias well into the nineties. So, too, did most of the popular press. it is only recently that conservative or moderate perspectives have begun to emerge, but emerge they have. So, be patient, Gray. Your kind of history survives and I expect it will flourish in the future.

    I suspect that we are boring Neo and her readers with this stuff. Time to move on.

  51. Oblio Says:

    Perhaps Ferguson was really arguing that “imperialism” is both necessary and inevitable, but that is the position of a public intellectual, rather than a purely “historical” perspective, although he is performing your functions 1, 3, and 4. In much the same way, the speech I linked above takes on macroeconomics and geopolitics as much as current finance. This is some history we are living through.

    And Ferguson may well turn out to be accurate in his perception that imperialism is necessary. It’s a shame he has gone wobbly and backed away from that pronouncement. We should have a good debate on whether the anti-imperialist/de-colonialist narrative as it has evolved is past its sell-by date.

    I don’t expect that to happen any time soon, since you would need a group of tenured professors to take up the challenge, and the practice of the profession is to keep anyone who thinks that independently from getting tenure in the first place.

    It’s a shame that the profession became a debate between the liberals and the radicals, as you say. I don’t think that did the academy any good. Growing up, I had the impression that the heart of the liberal arts, and the heart of the great universities, lay in history, literature, and philosophy, and that these disciplines enjoyed special prestige. I think academic history has lost a great deal of its prestige and relevance by becoming an insular, post-modern, and ideologically-oriented guild. The same is even more true for literature and philosophy.

    Somewhere in there is a story of failure of institutional leadership as profound as anything we have seen on Wall Street. I think this is a terrible crime against our historical and cultural memory.

    When I arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1978, I had hopes of making my career studying, writing, and teaching history. That didn’t work out for a number of reasons, some of which are for my account. I sometimes think about going back to it as a second career (sadly now delayed by the events of last fall). I had hopes that new, good, and highly relevant history was starting to be written again since the profession was struggling free from the intellectual straitjackets created by the ideological debates of the 60′s and 70′s. Perhaps we can save some of that progress from a new age of ideological hostility.

    But there is perhaps a silver lining in all this: that faced with the “herd of independent thinkers” in the left liberal professoriate, the free thinkers in my era became conservative.

  52. Oh, bother Says:

    Maybe I’m very unusual, but I believe I learned very well the lessons of the 1930′s and 40′s without having actually lived them myself. Perhaps that’s because I learned plenty of the details of the Holocaust before the age of ten, which in case you wanted to know is too young. Two of the saddest words in the English language are, “Never again.”

  53. Artfldgr Says:

    my deepest apologies to gray…

    takes me a while to get back and make right what i made wrong… sorry

  54. kayalamom Says:

    You guy’s heard it’s some accident happened in Mike Tyson family pure guy, his so great and popular , even he do a lot of crazy things he didn’t deserve it . I’m a big fan of his – we should pray for him.

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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