The Impetus for Change?: History has been described in great eras, resulting in breaks from the past. Are we now in a moment of decision? Who decides?
For the past few hundred and more years, change in the world was driven by the Europeans for the most part. During this era, technology and science were the double components chipping away at the dominance of society by the double components the church and royalty. There are many factors that also influence this equation; urbanization, exploration, industrialization, colonization, imperialism and such. All areas of the world experienced great change because of each of the factors, with some benefitting more than others and some groups of individuals in each area disproportionately gaining over their fellow citizens…sometimes by non-citizen rulers.
In those past few centuries, there have been prominent individuals who have surfaced, either because of circumstances or perhaps because of their personalities, and moved events in a different direction. This change may have occurred because of discoveries, inventions, new ideas, major battles, royal decisions and other such factors. Historians have recorded these events within the paradigms of their own eras, meaning that they interpreted the events and collected the facts and narratives in a way that suited them. History has been told through a lens that was often expedient, or at least viable to the powers controlling the dissemination of the new revised history. It is possible that after an era has evolved into a new paradigm, with new leaders, new powers, new ideas or new technology altering societies, that the later era will evaluate and describe the history of earlier eras in an altered, revised light. In fact, some things that held little prominence in their own time may be lifted to greater or even premier prominence for influencing change by later historical context. We are not always good at evaluating what is most important in our own times. Are we making significant mistakes as the events transpiring before us now ask for leadership and reasoned decision-making. History is often the source many go to in assisting in these decisions.
As we look back at history, there were times when contemporaries were unaware of how a new idea, invention or individual was going to impact the course of history. The unawares were made either less or irrelevant from the impact of some specific factor. Their job disappeared, their group or nation lost power, or they were forced to address a new attitude that could no longer be suppressed…indeed, sometimes this new attitude became the instant favorite and was adopted by a majority quickly. Note that ‘progress’ was not always the result. History has winners, but it is not required that the victor be beneficent of good for society, or the earth, in the long run. Think usage of petroleum, carbon emissions, plastic, atomic power, pesticides, and other seemingly positive additions to society that carried with them unknown and very unwanted unintended consequences. Indeed, for each of the factors I listed in the previous sentence, a short search will lead you to the hugely significant unintended consequences for each, should you not already be familiar with them.
What is certain in evaluating Western history over the past several centuries, is that the scientific method has been preeminent in forwarding its tenets, where objective truth is established through thorough observation, exploration, notation, comparisons and conclusion. We have moved our reality in a very specific direction based on this method, though we are now finding we have not considered enough in the process, both for the community as a whole and for each of its individual members. Who are the important individuals who have been neglected along the way, what ideas did not get credence, what factors were not considered. Future historians and politicians will seek to correct the misdirection that has occurred.
In my career as a historian, looking at the different eras in human experience through the millennia, where change has occurred and systems changed or societies were constructed based on new understandings, it was always more interesting to ask “what was the agent’s purpose affecting the change?” or “what was most important to the society being studied?” or “on what basis did the victors of a conflict between societies claim their solutions valid, authentic and justified?” or “Once the successful adoption of the agent of change altered society, what was gained and what was lost?…hopefully with an evaluation of comparison to follow in each instance.
In effect, this allows an individual to sort out what is important in respect to the individual living in any society and what the goals of any society are towards itself and to the other societies around it, and what consideration does any society have for all of its citizens, regardless of their status and importance to the society. This is the continuum of human history in a nutshell. Historians should also look at the creations accomplished by each of these societies, as those are how you will ultimately be measured. What were your achievements in the arts, in politics, in infrastructure, in philosophy, in science, in law and in long term goals that are viable. They should also keep in mind that a clear understanding of the impact the physical sciences have on us all. History is a human science, in that it measures human activity, which is perplexing, inexact, yin and yang, psychologically fraught and open to accident. Physical sciences apparently are not, though we are still learning of our limitations in describing epistemology. As we move into the 21st century, we find we have made many mistakes in the past three centuries. Can they be addressed, for the individual, the social systems extant in the world and the physical world we all inhabit?
Some thoughts to consider in this era of “False News” and claims of conspiracy, denial, obfuscation and siloing of the dissemination of knowledge. We seem to have far too many claims on the validity of knowledge to survive as a whole. Are we going to withstand this threat, a threat against the constitution, one empirically challenged and one, if allowed to fester and grow that could lead to a more vicious kind of civil war than we are already carrying out implicitly. We have had very difficult times in our nation’s history. Are we on the precipice of a new era, falling into it without tethers and unawares? There are people who are speaking up and sounding the alarm. Are they being heard or seen? My questions to ponder……
- As the world entered into the technological revolutions that have altered the earth so profoundly, both magnificently and maliciously, those who controlled the technology gained fantastic wealth. There followed an argument, one I feel is not resolved, about the concept of wealth and capitalism versus need and socialism. It has polarized often into great opposing camps, with the capitalists sometimes pulled towards fascism and authoritarianism to protect its tenets. Sometimes it has completely ostracized and alienated any thoughts of social restructuring through government means to the detriment of the ideological arguments of both the right and left. Recently, a few, some, have had a more reasoned approach to understanding the impact of technology on capitalism, but I feel we have either ducked the opportunity to address this issue or have not listened to the correct experts on how capital can and should be managed. In history, when the powers that be, whether they are royal, religious, owners of industry, robber barons or any other consumers and controllers of power, take up an unsustainable proportion of the nation’s wealth and leave the others below them to manage on an unsustainable proportion of the economic pie, change happens forcefully. The Trump election, though occasioned not from a majority of the population, but only with an electoral majority, but with one that demonstrated a hugely disenchanted group of the electorate (many or most also within the Clinton camp) who understood they were being left out. Unfortunately, too many of those in the Trump camp are not engaged enough in the self-education process to seek more viable solutions to their problems. Hopefully we are seeing a reapportionment of the Trump camp and his followers are diminishing enough to re-engage a meaningful dialogue. The Always Trumpers are looking backwards and will never get there. What is the solution that they should look towards, not for salvation, but resolution. Should they look to a more socialist resolution? Would they be better off looking at those countries that employ this system within the economic and political worlds? Some sources to consider…
Reclaiming the State http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=36746
Factors that comprise politics are many. What is never extracted from politics is the economic factor. What a political decision will cost should always factored into the final equation.