Thursday, February 17, 2011

History's Single Purpose

I've been trying to put my finger on something that frustrates me about a lot of modern scholarship and politics (and that of former times as well, but times of yore feel tamer since I'm not in the middle of them), and I finally remembered this strip. Calvin parodies it better than I could explain anyway.

Throughout history, the narrative goes, people have been wicked fools (I haven’t figured that one out—it seems that our enemies could be evil or they could be idiots, but if they are both at once they would hardly be daunting). Nevertheless, we have slowly learned, through a long process of wars and travesties and protests and movements, to recognize that evil and stupidity. Finally, at the climax of human history, we have entered the stage. Wisdom has been made flesh and has become... us.

I don’t have a firm grasp on the alternative narrative I would propose instead, but it certainly involves lynch mobs and concentration camps being operated by people like me, that acknowledges that the twistedness and the beauty of human history is within me as much as it is within the people whom I study in history classes.

May I never lose the humility to see myself as a part of this horrific and magnificent humanity I hope to learn from in both a negative and a positive sense.


Christian H said...

It seems to me that the most obvious alternative to the Myth of Progress is that things (people) are getting worse. I don't advocate this view.
The next most obvious alternative that some things are getting better and some things are getting worse: we're not more wise than we were before, we're just differently skewed. This one I might be able to get behind.

Yay! Calvin and Hobbes.

MCS said...

I find myself wondering if the point of history might be to have a little fun. MCS