See, Here is the Funny Thing About History….

It’s Never Over. We Should Do Better at Teaching It

Do We Learn from History?

Apparently, not much. Or not many of us. We all know that famous old line “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” Less well known but equally true is the one that says: “Those who learn history are doomed to watch those who do not, repeat it.” Yes, indeed.

The whole point of recording and passing on history, one assumes, is to pass along the lessons contained therein. Yet, we continue to make the same mistakes, commit the same oversights, over and over. Some days I think we are one slow learning species.

There are several Big Lessons of history that are available to us. Let’s look at a few of them and see what we should have learned by now.

Religion and Politics Make a Toxic Mix

Perhaps the truest of the truths we will review today. There have been periods wherein religion, politics, or both got something they wanted from blending, but overall, the results have been disastrous for both communities and for their fellow citizens at large. It will always be so.

The simple reality that politics and religion are both important to societies but when blended, both are inevitably corrupted to no good end. Tell me your moral grounding is Christianity or Animalism or whatever, and I will say fine. It’s important to have moral groundings. Tell me you believe so much in your religion that you want to pass laws that make us all live by your theological beliefs and I will tell you – theologically speaking – go to Hell. It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who insist America is a Christian nation. Look around. It is not and never has been.

The founders were acutely aware of the need not to declare a national religion. Too bad some of their successors don’t get it. Declaring a one religion state puts a country only a step away from blasphemy trials, denial of rights and freedoms, and hatred of “others.” The wave of anti LGBT legislation and related actions infecting America today has been nurtured by hate speech disguised as religion. This never, ever ends well. Can we not teach that Church and State are both important but cannot cohabitate?

Pandemics Have a Pattern

Going back to at least the Black Plague and some bits of information before the Roman era, every pandemic ever documented has followed a similar social pattern.

At first, everyone is scared silly. Measures are taken to ease the threat. Most people go along with such measures, but a good-sized majority stiffly resist, either rejecting the science or protesting the impingements on personal liberty. There were demonstrations during the Spanish Flu pandemic against wearing face masks, just like we see today.

Again, most people are willing to try remediation but enough do not to undercut effectiveness and prolong the spread of disease. Finally, almost everyone gets tired of all the changes and simply start ignoring good sense in a desperate reach for normalcy – a bit too early, resulting in a final surge of the disease before it runs its course.

And there are always politicians and talking heads ready to pick up those protest and doubt banners for their own ends. Fox TV did not invent this nonsense; they just joined the history lineup on the wrong side of what is needed.

One wonders if things might have gone differently with COVID if we shared and hammered home these historical lessons along with all the medical advice.:

“Listen, there is a pattern that always pops up in a pandemic. We know the following things will happen; let’s all be on the lookout and work to stop such folly now.”

No Free Media? No Democracy

I will yield to no one my irritation with the shortfall of the press and media in the modern age. We are often poorly served, or not at all served. Nevertheless, independent media is a fundamental element of any society that would be free and democratic. There is no Plan B.

History teaches us repeatedly that when politicians started saying the media is the enemy of the people, they are lying. They are setting us up for a system where those who have power to make decisions also control the flow of information. Think that has ever worked out well for any nation or group? Nope. Not once.

I would be a happy Camper of Fox and its Fellow Travelers all failed tomorrow. And I am certainly in favor of increasing their accountability and transparency. Where is the Fairness Doctrine when we need it? But banning them via government fiat? A singularly bad idea.

It really should not be all that difficult to show people all the examples in history of government or politicians trying to isolate citizens from independent information flow. Even if you really like Politician A, you should be aware that they could at some point turn out to be much less than you expected. But you are unlikely to know that if there is no independent media digging in every day.

Much could be done to improve media, especially social media. But allowing the same people who run things to control the national conversation is not such a solution. It is a sure recipe for disaster.

Let Us Teach History as a Direct Key to The Future

How about our government, our media, our experts, and all of us get into the habit of asking whether there are any historical parallels to whatever we are dealing with now and whether there are lessons for us now in such history?

What if all those sources were telling people all along, in every way possible that religion and politics hurt each other, that pandemics run an expected and tiresome course, and that it is nonnegotiable to have anything other than robust media? Cite all the examples of what happens when we ignore these truths.

Surely, we are clever enough as a species to get it if the information is well presented, framed in our current times, and repeated often enough.

If not, we deserve the future we make.

          Bill Clontz

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2 replies to See, Here is the Funny Thing About History….

  1. Bill I could not have expressed my feelings and agreements better.

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