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.


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