- The aggregate of past events
- The continuum of events occurring in succession leading from the past to the present and even into the future
- A record or narrative description of past events
- All that is remembered of the past as preserved in writing; a body of knowledge
I spent most of yesterday afternoon reading through a detailed history of the world, whilst at the library. The thing that most surprised me was how current it all was! Here I was reading about events from 55 bc, 400 ad, 1100 ad, 1556, 1722, 1852, 1952, 1987, and 2000, and it could have been the news I read yesterday! Murder, greed, power, deception, sexual scandal, control. They were all there, just as they are today, which got me thinking!
“What’s the point in recording all these events? Is it so we can progress as a species, or is just voyeurism into the past?”
I want to discuss this with you today, because I believe we spend way too much time looking backwards (and forwards), when we should be concentrating on the present moment. Sure, it’s nice to look back at pictures, and see who invented stuff, and who won this battle, and who was burned at the stake for being a witch, but that’s just entertainment. Some of you reading this right now may be vocally disagreeing, but that’s ok with me. That’s what makes these dialogues more interesting!
When you look at the past, what do you see? Joy or despair? If you read history books the past always seems like a brutal place to be when we compare it to our lives today.
People were being murdered all the time, disease was rife, life expectancy was short, food was scarce, the rulers were corrupt, powerful individuals were getting richer whilst the poor were getting poorer. Actually what I could be talking about, is any number of countries RIGHT NOW.
On the african continent, there are many countries with murderous regimes actively killing people right at this very moment; actively diverting funds to their own personal swiss bank accounts. It’s incredible to believe, isn’t it? What we thought was all in the past, confined to history books, is alive and well, operating right under our noses.
When we (westerners) look at history books, we may see that people are no longer being hung, drawn, and quartered in our country, and that we have a great health service, and that there are equal opportunities for most of us; where the weak are looked after, and the strong are regulated, so they do not overcome the weak. For us, history shows improvement.
As a british citizen, when I look back at history, I see people a lot worse off than me, struggling every day. Ok, so we might have had a lot of victories in battle, but no one seemed to be very joyful! So if I compare my life now, with its comfortable house, car, laptop, plentiful food etc. I’m rather glad I don’t live in the 1500’s or before.
Our fellow humans in parts of africa, asia, and the middle east don’t have the pleasure of looking back into history and being glad they live now. For some of them they may prefer to have lived in a different time. For most of them, living now is a living nightmare.
Fuelled by greed, power, the need for absolute and total control sprinkled with a dash of idealism, the rulers of these countries are making life hell for everyone who is not part of their select group. I will not go into details of each country individually here but they know who they are.
So as we can see, when we look back at history, we expect to see change for the better. It would be a fairly depressing school lesson if we all had to open our books at page 223 covering the oppression of the people in 1100 ad, where dissent was met with torture and death; only to point out that it was still going on in 2007! Well that’s what’s happening right now in some parts of the world.
We all complain about our lot in the west; that we don’t have enough money for a new car, that we have to work too hard, that we can only afford a two week holiday abroad with the family next year etc. But we do not realise how lucky we are.
I say lucky, because it is just luck that we in the west happen to be alive during a period which seems peaceful and calm in our countries, where capitalism and consumerism seem to be vying for the attention of the people.
Absolute state control of the people has reduced to a low level and the real people in power are the corporations, who (fortunately) don’t want to convert you to their religion, they just want to sell you stuff. So power has moved away from the gun to the dollar, which is equally as powerful, but comes with less obvious bloodshed.
In the west, we all seem to have quite a lot now; and thanks to mass production in asia, we can all afford electronic goods and fashion clothing. We all have housing, we all can afford some kind of car, we can all go on a holiday. These days there is something for everyone. If you have a lot of money you can have an expensive car or go on an expensive holiday, and if you have a little money you can have a cheap car and go on a cheap holiday.
Gone are the days in the industrial western countries where only the rich could have a car or go on holiday. Capitalism has made the battlefield, and companies fight it out to the death using advertising, marketing and product innovation instead of weapons!
We have a democratic government, and no matter what you think of them, they make sure that people have jobs; and if they don’t have jobs, support them financially until they do get one; and if you don’t like this government you can just vote them out next time round.
You try doing that if you are a citizen in a country ruled by a dictator or junta (a group of military officers who rule a country after seizing power). They generally stay in power for as long as they can get away with it as they tend to be the sorts of people who like the power and the money.
In the west, we now have freedom of speech, whereby you can say anything you like against the government; try that in a dictator run country. Well, you can say what you like, but you are liable to be brutally tortured and then murdered!
So if the history books were to reflect back on this period in the west, they would have to say that it is a period of stability, prosperity and general happiness! There would be no pictures of slaves being dragged, shackled to their next “employer,” no pictures of dissenters being hung, drawn, and quartered, and no pictures of starving children. There are of course people with individual problems in every country, but nothing worth reporting in the history books as a general state of affairs.
But like all that is past, history sits just behind us ready to become part of the present. Why? Because history is a record of actions: human actions and actions created by natural events.
As I look back through a chronicle of our history in britain, I can see that although things have changed, like free schooling for all, a more comfortable lifestyle, and we live longer, the fundamental core of ourselves has not. What do I mean by that? Think about it for a moment.
If we trace our ancestors through history we can see certain traits which have been carried on through us. Certainly there are positive traits like inventiveness and resourcefulness, but others such as greed, violence, state sponsored murder, ego, vanity, ambition, power seeking, warmongering, sexual depravity, idealism, extremism, religious fanaticism, amongst many others have shown through in page after page of the history books, and appear right up until the present day.
So although we may have satellite television, jet aeroplanes, and fast food, are we really any different from the characters from the history books?
What have we learnt from history?
The one thing we must understand when people say “learn from history,” is they are talking about avoiding repeating the same mistakes over and over. That is only possible if (a) they want to learn from their mistakes and (b) view them as mistakes in the first place!
Slavery is a good indicator of this.
In britain, there were slaves before the roman times, and slaves were considered essential to the economy of the country. It wasn’t until 1807 that slavery was eventually abolished thanks to the tireless work of several men, otherwise it would probably still be in existence today.
Oh sorry, I forgot. It still does. Britain may not use slaves anymore but other countries still do, and you can see why they still think it’s still a good idea – they get free labour!
Unfortunately, people have to suffer, but there’s always more of them aren’t there?
There are a thousand stories from the history books we could use as examples here, but I think it would be more valuable if you found yourself a decent book on world history and the history of your own country and looked through it. I am sure you will find the same types of events coming up again and again.
So is that it? Are we destined to never truly move forward as a planet together? Will the same history continue to be written? Remember, we are a human race, we all live on this planet, there is no point writing history books to say, look what we’ve achieved, look what we’ve changed, look how we have changed, if it does not apply to the whole world.
You may argue that that is impossible to achieve and countries and people progress at their own rate. Where some countries in africa are now, we in britain may have been 300 years ago.
But I do not believe we can just stand back and let the history books continue to be written. We cannot allow events of great sadness to transpire on our planet, and say:
“Oh, well, in a couple of hundred years we will learn from our mistakes!” All this looking back into history to predict the future does not change the fact that people and animals are suffering RIGHT NOW because of terrible actions carried out by humans. Humans who do not care for each other, and who do not care for the planet they are living on.
Whether they are warmongers, politicians, churchmen or businessmen it doesn’t matter. These are the same people who have been causing us to suffer since the history books began. The names and the faces may have changed, but the core of these humans remains the same. Until they become aware of themselves in action we are destined for a miserable future on this planet. Until they transform greed, anger, hate, ego, power, and extremism into love, we will continue to have wars and suffering. Until we all transform consumerism into abstinence we will continue to destroy the planet and use up all of our resources.
Ultimately, all the historians have done is to illuminate the fact that in all the years we have been developing on this planet, the same basic drives have existed throughout.
Does this mean that Man is terminally flawed? Not at all. But until the human race become aware of themselves in the present and transform themselves, not over time, but instantaneously, history will continue to repeat itself. Because all history is us. Yesterday.
By Alan Macmillan Orr
“The Natural Mind – Waking Up”