The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stories and Histories

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana
—Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905, p. 284.

We often see Santayana's quote. Then, why do people keep making the same errors? Perhaps an answer rests beyond a simple question of history, far past the reaches of the “inquiry” first made by Herodotus, in ancient Greece, in the 5th Century, B.C. To overcome the very simple human nature of repeating bad ideas and committing monstrous mistakes, humanity might look further than just the facts of history, and understand and absorb the stories, even the poetry of life, to make better decisions. In grasping wisdom of human nature, and learning real lessons from the art of living, perhaps then humanity could disrupt the cycles of its cruelty to itself, and stop condemning the world to a possible doom of famine, poverty, war and plutocracy.

Whether the normal things in the smallness of every day life, or in the realm of the most serious policies defining conditions of war and peace, even forgotten lessons from history provide no fast and hard laws or rules of what to do or the results that occur. Every time someone faces a different time and place, the results vary, and indeed evidence should decide each case of familiar failures or successes on its particular merits. Fallible human faults—fear and greed, above all—behoove a definition of “humanity.”

The cause of repeating errors or reaching correct conclusions rests somewhere outside of learning from history. Political leaders steep themselves in education. Many write books of history or memoirs. In the analysis, all the expensive education did not stop President Kennedy's “best and brightest” leaders from making old and new mistakes in Vietnam, or prevent the United States Government from reliving in the 21st Century either the 19th and 20th Century British and Russian-Soviet strategic nightmares in Central and South Asia. At the elevated levels of government, constituents decide who with skills, education, and, hopefully, experience, shall run the affairs of nation-states and the system(s) of international relations.

Unless some one, correctly or incorrectly, believes that leaders make deliberate mistakes from which to profit, then even the “better and brighter” can still make errors, despite knowing their “history” supposedly better than those who placed them in power and condone their decisions. History has its good uses, and sadly its bad ones as well. As far as history proving a certain future course of action, that secret resides with the dead, because they stay dead and have no real future.

Mistakes in personal lives or public realms, unfortunately, can have deaths and destruction as consequences. People making any decision, a simple choice or a complex one, really do need a little caution of fear where treading on the fates of others. The magnitudes of results, good or bad, do increase as the responsibility attained to make choices increases. Wiser counsels need as much certainty as the fog of all situations allows. No one, however, can avoid the need to err on the side of the greater good, but some people do not, and from there, errors and unintended sufferings may multiply.

History informs. It cannot dictate choices in a model template of cookie-cutter options. We must learn by doing, as well as by studying. Most of all, people must remember the experiences, and through the wisdom of experiences, minds form themselves into a measure and scale of the history behind them.

Somewhere, whether in business, political or community affairs, leaders must connect, and then refresh and reconnect to the knowledge provided by history. One calls this an “institutional memory” in certain regards, and one goes forward to absorb all the lessons of each case, with all cases evaluated on, of course, their own particular circumstances. The practical examples serve decision-makers, nee choice-makers, from more the moral of the event in the past, and then what one can learn for the present choices. No real shortcut exists to find wisdom, other than people do best to not repeat the mistaken choices that brought psychological guilt to the individual, or ruination to the national interests.

Learning useless facts of history—dates, names, statistics, etc.—teaches less than the interpretation of the story of people behind it. Scholarship, while it provides unending arguments about the irrelevancy of certain, minor items of history among historians, gives history the context that makes it useful to anyone who wants to learn it. The drama of decisions forces a person to grasp the significance of not so much the events, but of the uncertain, difficult choices made by those responsible for making them.

Humanity, at all levels, whether as parents or presidents, face the unlikeable truth that no matter how well groomed, prepared, educated, or experienced to do a job, decisions become vast in complexity and much, much more difficult than witnessing them directly or from the periphery, or from a future text. History does not solve all its questions, by any degree, but it gets closer to the connection to help keep choices toward the good and farther away from the bad. Closer? Yes, absolutely. Destination? Never.

Leadership must keep the connection of their decisions to those who suffer or benefit most, the greater number of average, normal people, and among those who must keep the leader or leaders accountable and responsible for the consequences of the trust empowered in them. In no other way does any form of leadership exist; the same for democracy by consent, or rule by one or the few, the latter of whom give the force of power by their choice, and violent coercion of others if nothing else. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum, not on a great ship of state or among the quaint brick buildings of main street. The perspective of leaders and led must remain the same for any system to survive, let alone thrive. Even the human system of civilization. Decisions implemented, the choices made now, can have permanent effects, for decades, for centuries, or for humanity's entire existence, whether for good or for bad.

The world needs its lessons learned from humanity's drives, and the quest for higher states of understanding and purpose, the shared experience of mind and spirit. Some rules apply absolutely, such as individuals and societies doing good for the right of good, and none doing evil for any reason. We find the motivations to strive and thrive as both species and kindred brothers and sisters on one planet in the vast, surpassing common stories of our dreams, our nightmares; our stories and our poetry; our pictures, and our songs. These aspirations, and not the crude material of our consumption and garbage, make for good living, greater liberty, and the path to more and more real happiness.

The art of life, and the life of arts, can lead, like history, to the greater truth of self-discovery. Art can provide means for some to manipulate for evil, for hate, and to create enemies. Good fights the evil of inner self-centeredness with self-less acts of kindness and intent, and we must both demand from and offer dignity to, others. The point of life resides in the story of love on this planet, not in the history of humanity's cruelty to one another. If history teaches anything, if the stories of the human past, present, and future—whether in scholarship, literature, poetry, images, or sounds—tell anything about humanity, let it tell a happy tale of how the world tumbled to the brink of selfish mutual suicide, but thought better. Do not expose Achilles' heel to the quest for arrogance, rage, greed and conquest. Everyone grows up tribal. Let the rest of history in the future become one of teaching ourselves humanity again. Let poetry teach us how to choose better from here to the end of time, a poet's choice.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Review of: Kissinger, Henry. World Order.

Review of: Kissinger, Henry. World Order. New York: Penguin P: 2014.
By Tim Krenz

In the past 60 years, few people affected events in the world with the same singular impact as did Henry Kissinger. As an academic, Presidential Assistant for National Security Affairs, Secretary of State, adviser to the powerful, or consultant to the rich, Henry Kissinger helped define the foreign policies of the United States, and he encountered the limits of such power.

A successful commentator, and author of memoirs, his work and life get better explained in his own words. In his latest work, his quasi last-will-and-testament, Kissinger returns to the academic roots of his career, that of diplomatic historian. Coming to close the circle begun in his first major work in the 1950's, A World Restored, the new book, World Order, revisits his old and comforting friends, the concepts of legitimacy, national interests, the balance of power, and equilibrium.

Beginning with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, when Europe's rulers agreed to end the brutal, religious-inspired Thirty Years War, Kissinger reviews history dominated by Western international law and the diplomatic relations between countries. He goes on to examine the Islamic civilization and Confucian-Chinese culture as they practice foreign affairs. The disconnect faced in 21st Century international relations between the West and the others in part arises from the wreckage of history strewn across the earth by the mingling of commerce, war, colonialism, and empire.

Because the United States until its entry into World War II remained mostly insular looking, internally developing, and focused on and protective of the Western Hemisphere, and because Asia stood divided and occupied by the Western and Ottoman powers, the international system of Europe dominated world affairs, creating “world order.” The peace treaties of 1648 brought to Europe's governments cleaner and more precise rules of conduct in peace and in war, including such things as diplomatic immunity and international conferences. The concept of legitimacy denoted the right of sovereignty, where no nation should interfere with the internal affairs of others, whether in religious or political or other issues. The balance of power, in short, dictated that no one power or no group of nations should ever become so strong as to overwhelm the others, with threats of war or wars of conquest.

As a the hand-maiden of the balance of power, equilibrium became the basis for limited wars in Europe, although fought around the world, and the stretches of peace that interrupted them. For 257 years in the Westphalian system of international relations, the maritime power of the British Empire choose to act as temporary friend of weaker coalitions to stop the stronger countries from dominating the politics and trade of the European peninsula, and by extension those of the globe. Examples of these strong powers include the empires of Austria, and later that of France. England ended its flexible, and necessary, role as the key to that balance of power in 1905, when it committed itself to alliances, first with Japan, and then later with republican France and the Russian Empire prior to the First World War.

Three “mega-events” ended the system of Europe's uneasy tightrope of deciding national interests, and eventually leads to the 21st Century's uncertainty in defining the present and future of world order. First came the French revolution and Napoleon's empire affronting Europe's system from 1789 to 1815. Next came the colossal changes in calculating national interests with the unification of Germany, 1871 to 1945. Reunification in 1990 has, however, a separate story in its own way, partially covered by this book. The third mega-event, the Soviet revolution from 1917 to 1991, forced America to follow its key involvement in defeating Germany in the Second World War with an open-ended engagement in world affairs, as the bulwark of Western liberal democracy and capitalism. This engagement continues today, and it creates its own new dilemmas. The US-Soviet Cold War became the bitter and expensive ($$) conflict fought violently not in the heart of Europe, but by proxy between the Superpowers on the peripheries where different national interests competed, i.e. in post-colonial Africa and the fringes of greater Asia.

As Europe's imperialism retreated following the gigantic cost and deaths of World War II, the emergence of independent nations in Africa and Asia gave rise to new ideas of self-perception in politics, such Mao's Communist philosophies. And it also resulted in the rebirth of identities like Confucian hierarchy in China, and that within Islam, with its dichotomy between the Sunni and the Shi'a interpretations. These non-European ideas began holding national power that challenged, and still challenge, the conventional wisdom, and the clarity, of the Western so-called rules of peace and war since 1648.

From these points of departure, Kissinger sets forth problems for not only current world leaders, but normal voters and future policymakers. The world must solve them to achieve some semblance of rules and procedures for diplomacy and resolution of conflicts of all national interests short of unending wars and under the shield and sword of nuclear weapons. Kissinger always gives brilliant exposition and keen observation, but he lives in controversy. In an important work like World Order, readers should demand no less than a critical analysis from an intelligent viewpoint, but also remind themselves of the true character and experience of its author while reading his requiem.