No, history is not about you
I'm getting to the end of Margaret MacMillan's book, The Uses and Abuses of History, which only took me six weeks to read, but never mind that. It's not a gripping read. But it's good, you know.
One thing in particular, one big impression I am left with as I slog my way through the end, is how selfish history is.
Or maybe I should say, how selfish people who care about history are.
No, that's not right either
How selfish some people are, and how they use history to scratch their own itches regardless of what it does to other people.
Yes, that's more like it.
History is endlessly fascinating because, kind of like statistics, you can make it do or say just about anything you like, provided you're good enough at communication and the manipulation of public opinion. Yes, yes. Manipulating people is easy. Just have to find the right hashtag. Ask Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun. Nothing against her, of course. I would probably have done the same thing. But how many other people suffer and die because they can't get the right kind of attention to their case? Or take that 10 year challenge thing. You done it yet? Not me. Doesn't matter how transparent a data-mining project this is, we're asking you about your own personal history and you lose every bit of healthy paranoia you should have had.
You can also try to ignore history or silencing the bits of it you don't like, in the hope of shaping today's narrative for reasons that range from harmless imbecility to absolute evil. Take, as an example I dearly hope belongs to the first category, the Holocaust monument plaque in Ottawa that somehow fails to mention Jews.
No, really. This, as my youngest would say, legit happened.
History is a record of what happened to humans not too different from us thrown into circumstances not too different from ours. It's useful to know about it, because there are lessons in there we might benefit from if we just tried to apply them every now and then. But that's about it.
History is a teaching aid, not a tool and certainly not a goal. It belongs to the people it happened to. We can learn from it, but we should refrain from using it to advance our own goals because it's not ours to use it as a club with which to beat others. Simple as that.
Those who try to use history don't do it for you or me. They do it for themselves. That's how selfish they are.
Not that I set a brilliant standard or anything, but MacMillan says it better: "History can help us make sense of a complicated world, but we must always be careful if it offers explanations that are too simple. And we must always be prepared to consider alternatives and to raise questions." I'll say. And in the end, she adds, we need to remember to "always handle history with care."