George Santayana once said in his book, ” The Life of Reason,” that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Those were wise words to live by, but the wisdom of those words are too often forgotten or ignored. There is really not much new that has not happened before, the only thing different is in the factual circumstances upon which the newer events have taken place. History gives us a sense of who we are and where we might be going.
Winston Churchill gave us an idea of what he thought on the matter when in a speech before Parliament on May 2, 1935, he said the following in reference to the fact that Austria was about to be swallowed up by Nazi Germany: ” When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now it is thoroughly out of hand we apply it too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of council until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong-these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
On occasion I get criticized for my constant use of history. I am told, that history is in the past; as if I should forget about it, and that the only thing that matters is today, what is happening now, in the present. It is enough to make me feel as if I am some sort of dinosaur and old retrobate who should be put out to pasture because I believe that what has happened before can help us better understand the present. If we could only learn lessons from the past it should make our lives easier by taking what has been learned and to try to use those lessons to help address our current problems.
Knowledge of history can help one prepare for being able to distinguish between fact and fiction. The new reality, now, is that our politicians lie about what has happened to the degree that it is getting harder and harder to know what is true and what is fiction. The press does not do their job by calling the politician out for what is clearly a lie. If you are living in some alternative world, a world of conspiracy and fiction it is going to be more difficult for those among us to accept the reality of what is true. Truth will set you free. What is important is that we seek and demand the truth.
Knowledge of history can help one be a more educated and informed voter. The greatest threat to any demagogue is an informed voter. Surprise, surprise you can not believe everything that you read on the internet. Be careful that your sources of information are good and reliable. Do your own research! Don’t be lazy, it only takes a few minutes of your time to find out what is fact or fiction.
Most importantly for our own leaders, it is of the most utmost importance to know history. Choose your leaders well. It is true that those that we elect are only a reflection of ourselves which is a scary thought.
Human beings seem to have a habit of waiting to do what is necessary only when self preservation becomes paramount. This seems to be a habit that we can not escape. But the lessons of history are there! What appears to be new is our challenge regarding climate change. Science should be accepted as gospel. Even the challenge of ISIS is not new. We have seen barbaric behaviour before, it is not unknown in the history of human behavior. Hitler and Pol Pot come to mind. What is important is to understand the nuances of our past failures and to rely on those lessons to be able to respond to the challenge of today without repeating the mistakes of the past. We are not perfect beings, which is often forgotten, and even though we mean well and we try our best success is not guarenteed. Patience and resolve are needed to see a strategy through. The hardest lesson of all is that sometimes there is no answer, no solution to a problem that the world faces. The fact is that we need to face each danger with calmness and equanimity. History is a tool to be used to face the challenges that we face. It is best to once again remind ourselves that ” Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”