3.c.12 – History is an important form of knowledge?

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April 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

History is an important form of knowledge? 

Our knowledge, and experience on which the same is based, must be preserved so that they can be used: memory has precisely this function: we find in it all the important events of our lives, i.e. it is our personal history. What we are today depends on our past and thus our ability to face the future depends on it.
We know well that, thanks to culture, we can use even the experience of others, we can learn not only from our mistakes, but also by those of others and then, alongside our personal history, it takes a fundamental importance also our collective history, which can be understood as history of the whole humanity, of our people or our family, as appropriate.
What deserves to be remembered as a historic event? We can follow two schools of thought: the first argues that it should be passed as much as possible because something that today seems insignificant, in the future could be very important; the other says that it is good to focus more on events that help us to reconstruct the past and its changes, particularly in some key aspects as politics, economy and technology, factors both closely related to one another and to life of man.
History is a valuable tool for understanding the present and learn from the mistakes of the past, his goal is to help us is to live in today’s world and to better address the future thanks to centuries of experience. From this point of view, history must be considered as a teaching with also practical applications that, as with any other source of knowledge, are difficult to predict; not being able to know in advance the real significance of historical events, it seems proper to try to pass indiscriminately as many as possible; as we have seen, it is the same basic principle of human curiosity: we are curious almost to everything because everything could later prove to be useful. This approach is certainly right from the point of view of a researcher, a professional historian and especially of the community in general, which must try not to lose any of its historical heritage, as a child must make the most of his experiences to prepare his future life. By an individual, not a historian, point of view, this method is not feasible, however, because too demanding or because a large mass of events, which will prove then to have no importance for the individual, would take the space to those really useful for him, and the experience of the past would become unusable; similarly to what we have already seen for culture, a selection of historical events is needed.
The individual user must learn from history a useful teaching, so it is logical to focus on events whose usefulness is already known; the most important concepts of history are then those who most help us to understand the present and to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past or, at least, those we today believe such. The study of history should then start from present more than from the distant past, through the selection of subjects in some way current.
Unfortunately, we all can see that in school curricula of all eras, selection and presentation of the arguments is not intended so much to understand the present but to justify it from a political point of view, to pay a tribute to the ruling class and to educate students to do the same; other times it is simply maintained the choice made centuries before by educators of the past.
History therefore is a very valuable discipline, but very badly managed, so that it is miseducative in extreme cases; this is for example what happens when long dynasties of kings and their wars of conquest are enhanced, or when the western colonial expansion is celebrated as a progress of civilization against the barbarity of the savages etc…
History has much to teach to the common man of today and must be part of the basic culture of everybody; if it is repeated even in errors, it is because people did not understand the lesson, has not drawn the right teaching. It is to be remembered that by the genetic point of view, there is no substantial difference between the brains of people today and that of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and the Romans; the difference is purely cultural and if culture, throughout history, does not help us to avoid the mistakes (and horrors) of the past, it is obvious that these will be repeated, as indeed has already happened many times.
History, among other things, teaches us that the cultural achievements cannot be considered acquired forever, although widely used and written for future memory. The Western Middle Ages for example, like all historical eras, have also had positive aspects, but it is remembered as a dark age, of cultural, economic, civil and moral regression; it is no coincidence that precisely in this period it has been lost a considerable part of historical memory of previous eras; this was not the cause of regression, but certainly helped to make it stable and thus increase the difficulties for overcoming it.
Numerous ancient texts were lost or forgotten and with them millennia of experience, not only technological, accumulated by the succession of civilization (Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman); during the Renaissance much has been recovered, but a major portion remained in oblivion. This is a loss of which even today we suffer the consequences because it reduces the number of models of behavior to which we can inspire, facilitating the acceptance of false beliefs very little valid, for lack of alternatives.
In the era of space conquests, of mass consumerism and universal suffrage, it is not easy to be persuaded that we live, in certain respects, still in the Middle Ages and even less that we can regress to the worst moments of that. What happened in the worst moments of that age we consider overcome? Let’s try to remember it together:
– we fought for years in the Crusades in the Middle East; atrocious and repeated conflicts very similar to the 2 gulf wars – the religious power was absolute and led the masses to uniform conduct; a widespread mental plagiarism very reminiscent of that of advertising or of political propaganda
the ruling class oppressed the people with all kinds of taxes; a continuous dripping that still renews itself at every economic political maneuver
– the population had an attitude of subservience than the dominant class, letting be piloted by demagoguery and accepting a role of subordination, a situation still widespread
– the population was socially fragmented into individual family nuclei, without a social structure that would allow a higher form of direct political organization; just like today, was therefore necessary that people were governed from above
– it was imposed celibacy for the clergy; a rule against nature and as such punctually rejected, but still in force
– it was widespread the nepotism, a selection among the protected rather than that between the deserving, that still now seems not to be forgotten
– it was easy to die for hunger, disease and violent death, such events were rightly accepted as inevitable; in the same way today are accepted deaths in road traffic accidents, accidents at work and crime even if they are absolutely not inevitable, thus demonstrating an awareness lower than that of Middle Ages
– the ruling class could exercise a right of veto over decisions by collegiate authorities; a little democratic prerogative, but still present also into the United Nations Organization.
Apart from these considerations, the greatest danger of regression of present days is not represented by the loss of cultural knowledge, but from the loss of values, a loss not less serious, that can undermine social harmony. So the value of knowledge, with regard to awareness about the nature and role of human values, assumes today a primary importance.

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