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’Lessons from History?’

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    Posted: 04-May-2006 at 09:48

 

..."What Lessons can be Learnt from History/"....

I am not sure if this subject has been put forward before in the forums but it is a topic we discussed heavily while i attended university, and one that brought about many, many different opposing answers and positive and negative contributions. However, i thought it would be interesting to explore what others from around the world would reply to such a question although i hope the subject can be approached by anyone on the boards.....

..Some of what follows has been pre-typed in 'Word' to allow me the benefit of prior thought and spelling checks!!! so apologies if there is any mishaps in formatting (and missed spellings mistakes!)

Personally, in admittedly broad and general terms, critical analysis of the past may act as a kind of policing force for the present and the future; if we adopt a critical and investigative attitude towards what has gone before, we may have the opportunity to apply such scrutiny to what happens now.

A significant amount of historical debate has centred on what may or may not be learnt from the study of the past and the lessons of history. If lessons can be learnt, what implication does such knowledge have upon society and individual judgements? Moreover, what of our application of this acquired education? George Orwell wrote ominously, Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. Is history doomed to play out in an endless cycle of failure and repetition? Alternatively, can we use our perceptions of the past to help rationalise our actions and prevent disaster, negligence and mishap?

I once heard a Russian saying, not sure where, and i am parphrasing but it went something like this... "if you keep one eye looking on the past, you are blind in the other eye, however, if you dont look at the past at all, you are blind in both eyes.

Also, Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote of the folly of dismissing the times of yore, If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us. 

 So, if anyone wants to put forward some thoughts, i would be duly interested.

   Shaun.

 

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  Quote Mila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 10:17
Everything has an end, no matter how permanant it might seem. There's no limit to the kindness and evil of what human beings will do to each other.

People can have one horrible experience and repeat it immediately afterwards. They just keep touching the hot stove over and over.

I think it proves we're all crazy - I forget what movie it was, but one of the characters said the definition of being crazy is repeating the same behaviors over and over but expecting different results. I think that's pretty much everyone.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:19

 

..Mila has i think provided a very good and profound reason why we should learn from the past, it is just a case of recognising where mistakes were made.

But then the will, motivation and nature has to be strong enough or willing enough to make any change...an area where it is all too simple to provide examples of human history where we positively did not learn from our past...

....but in some other ways, we can see that we have adapted from our past and learnt from previous behaviour......indeed, warfare is one of the few areas in which we can state with unfortunate certainty that we have learnt from history, namely, how best we can exterminate one another more ruthlessly and efficiently.

Nevertheless, history is peculiar in that no matter how alike events may seem, previous episodes are never repeated under exactly the same circumstances. The consequences are differing making it difficult to judge a past event and rationalise it for present or future use. To look at an issue in the past and directly use its format as a template for planning invites disaster as current discrimination, perceptions and circumstances are not taken into consideration. However, despite such complications, it maybe possible to judge history and then use this insight for current purposes......

......The Cuban Missile Crisis presents itself as an episode in which John F. Kennedy seemingly employed historical hindsight to his advantage. There is a suggestion that the failures of European politicians to avert WWII were insights that helped guide Kennedy in his bid to avoid nuclear Armageddon, namely by not appeasing the potential aggressors. 

 Adolf Hitler once claimed that, A man who has no sense of history is like a man who has no ears or no eyes. He can live, of course, but what is that? The Nazi dictator may have had a certain understanding of the past but it could be argued that he did not fully appreciate the lessons to be learnt from history. Napoleon Bonaparte had set a notable precedent with his campaign to invade Russia nearly 130 years before the catastrophic German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.....

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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:20

If lessons are learned at all, they are learned from history.

What else is there to learn from?

 

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  Quote pegasusdi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:40
It may be nice to have the idea to open the book of history, look through the pages and have the list of 'do's and 'dont's.  i am afraid my imagination of what history looks like is quite different.  It is multi-layered abd multi-directional together with its highlights and silences.   I wonder how it will be possible to learn from history when we are unable to see the whole picture as it is (which we will never achieve without a time machine and mind-reader)  The greatest chance would be to have an educated guess.
Still, history is the greatest ( and the only)labaratory of social sciences and it is not easy to give up the curiosity about the past.  So as long as we don't try to copy paste from past to present, history is still important to understand 'present' but deriving 'lessons' can be somewhat tricky.


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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:40

 

Thats a very, very good point gcle203...indeed, one argument would be to say that if we do not learn from history, what is the point or value of such things as history eduation? even these forums? books?..

  ...but perhaps the focal point is 'choice'..what do we choose to learn or ignore?.....it is maybe about being pro-active in our choices. In my opinion, what we learn from the past, most notably our attitudes, knowledge and values, invariably affects the decisions and personal choices we make in the present and for the future......Consequently, we are utilising the evidence of the past to inform and evaluate our perceptions of the world in which we live.....

....Ultimately, such judgements might be used to facilitate change for better or worse, although it is perhaps ironic that future study of our present history will customarily provide an insight into the mistakes and pitfalls not so readily evident within our current timeframe.....

..some of this may sound painfully obvious but there are some who argue that history has no purpose or place in current thinking, it is looking back when we should be lookng forward...Once again i cannot recall where i read this statement but here it is..."The only thing that we can learn from history is that there is nothing to learn from history? ....

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  Quote pegasusdi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:44
We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.--George Bernard Shaw 
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:50

"pegasusdi" stated "history is the greatest ( and the only)labaratory of social sciences and it is not easy to give up the curiosity about the past" i would have to totally agree with you there......

you also mentioned  "So as long as we don't try to copy paste from past to present, history is still important to understand 'present' but deriving 'lessons' can be somewhat tricky"...again, something else i would tend to agree with....We may not always heed the warnings from the past and learn the lessons, however history should always be a subject used to encourage a search for understanding, to find the truth, to reason with conflict and destruction, and to enable us to develop into well-rounded individuals....(this is probably morally over-bearing, very idealistic and seemingly not very practical, but i am well aware of that but for discussion purposes).... 

.....However, what we decide to take on board is greatly influenced by our individual loyalties, prejudices and our sense of cultural identity; what is historical fact for one group of people can be historical fiction to another......

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 11:53

 

 

..Thanks Pegasusdi...i knew it was a familiar phrase but i could not place it!! ....

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  Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 12:09
Originally posted by gcle2003

If lessons are learned at all, they are learned from history.

What else is there to learn from?

In my opinion - no lessons are learned - that is exactly what we, the humans dont do.
We in all our selfdefined knowledge, are sadly enough not on a crusade to make the world better, based on previous experiences. Maybe a few individuals or organisations are - but as a whole, no.
If we are crusading, maybe the "better world" concept is used as pretext, but there are so many other agenda's.
We cant even seem to compensate for the damage already done due to greed, lust of power, religious insanity etc. 
Instead we build "walls" and borders to protect our wealth. We also (EU)subside our farmers so they can export their goods at dumping prices which makes it totally impossible for local farmers elsewhere to make a living.
We also know hundreds of children starve to death every day - but no crusaders coming to their rescue.
Want to join me on a crusade to Sudan? - no? - ohhh... I see, no oil.

As I see it - noone is interested in learning from History - it only repeat itself endlessly.

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 12:26

Originally posted by Northman

As I see it - noone is interested in learning from History - it only repeat itself endlessly.

I agree with Northman.Human motivations,emotions remain the same.Same cycle is repeated by different players.

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 12:49

 

..interesting and valid points by Gol Empies and Northman.....

..however, playing 'devils advocate', does this mean the human race has always been so stuck in a repetative cycle of gloom? have we indeed learnt nothing from our past?....

...i tend to think that the 'key' to learning the right lessons of history, and therefore understanding the past, is in the gathering of knowledge and the provision of education.....

..........the past may provide obvious conclusions, but more often than not, the lessons of history are subtler in their approach and appear to be a culmination of knowledge gathered over the passing years which  result in a whole body of information and resources that will enable a process of education to take place...... whether we use such education to make informed choices and decisions seems to be down to an individuals psychology and social abilities and the majority may end up as Northman noted, not "interested in learning from history"...

....ideally though, and this is my own personal opinion, history should fire the imagination of young and old alike. It is wise to consider how the past has influenced the present by studying the great and not so great societies that have gone before, including their politics, culture and religious beliefs. By doing so, it is possible to understand the diversity of the human experience and therefore comprehend ourselves as individuals and members of societies built upon historical foundations....i have found that learning history has enbled me to develop a better sense of awarness, more tolerance, and a greater understanding of the world i live in...it just seems to me that the more i do this, the more i move away from conflict and ignorance?... 

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 12:54

Originally posted by Act of Oblivion

does this mean the human race has always been so stuck in a repetative cycle of gloom? have we indeed learnt nothing from our past?....

What is there to learn from the past?

Originally posted by Act of Oblivion

...i tend to think that the 'key' to learning the right lessons of history, and therefore understanding the past, is in the gathering of knowledge and the provision of education.....

There are different versions of history.What is right for a group is wrong for the rival.

As individuals we may learn from history.As groups we cannot.

 

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 13:08

 

.Gol Empires asked "What is there to learn from the past?"

...which brings it neatly back to the original question on the thread

Gol Empires also noted that "There are different versions of history.What is right for a group is wrong for the rival. As individuals we may learn from history.As groups we cannot."

...In response, i will state what i said earlier........"However, what we decide to take on board is greatly influenced by our individual loyalties, prejudices and our sense of cultural identity; what is historical fact for one group of people can be historical fiction to another......"

..i guess here, this is all down to developing that 'understanding' and education, the sharing of historical knowledge between diffrent peoples, much like history authors debating orthodox, revisonist and post-revisonist views of historical events.....perhaps to avoid that 'cycle of gloom', this is one area where we CAN learn something from our past mistakes?..the very existance of this forum i think helps promote this line of thought....

..John Tosh has pointed out that a historical education achieves a number of goals at once: it trains the mind, enlarges the sympathies and provides a much needed perspective on some of the most pressing problems of our time. .....In short, the study of history develops our ability to think constructively and with foresight. To disregard the benefits of historical education, as well as education in general, is paying no attention to the fine threads that hold our very existence together......bad news all round then? 


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  Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 13:15

I always find that people like to place 'learning' upon a pedastal. The strange idea, learning is done by good people and only good things come from it.

Who was it who said, "Remember the past, we may need it again in the future"............ Oh yes, it was a Stalinist.

Mao Tse Tung always claimed he learn't everything from the first emperor. Pol Pol was a major student of history and his Year-One was supposed to be inspired from a complete understanding of the mistakes of the past. Hitler looked at WWI and was motivated by not making the same mistake again.



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  Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 14:15
Originally posted by Paul

I always find that people like to place 'learning' upon a pedastal. The strange idea, learning is done by good people and only good things come from it.

I see learning/education as the only hope for a more peaceful world.
But you can only educate individuals.
You can mislead a whole nation -  but to give the people the possibility of a competent free choice, they need education free of political and religious doctrines.

My former statement "we dont learn from history" was a "crusade" directed towards the christian western world. We call ourselves christians, educated and well enlightened. But where is the christian conscience?
If its present somewhere, it certainly isnt with those in power. They might call themselves christians - but they dont practise it. The are still crusading for wealth and power.
I'm not religious in particular - but I try to honor the christian values.

In this forum combined, there are more knowledge of history than anyone can ask for, and everyone can enjoy this knowledge and learn from it.
People of different religions, nations, and conceptions can bend their opinions and acheive a better understanding of others. Thats the main point as I see it.

Nations and rulers of nations are stil on the same trail of blood - and as long as they can convince people to take pride in a nation, wars, patroism, religion, a flag or whatever - things wont change.
So learning about history can be a double edged sword.
"Look at our history - we are a great and proud nation - lets go out and show them our courage" 

Things will change when individuals will respect one another. At least, thats the primary condition for things to change.

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2006 at 14:33

 

..i kind of know what you are saying Paul...i guess it goes back to the idea about who's history is who's?....what choices are made with education and how selective it can be....however, despite your point i do think that history does not just provide national leaders with selective and discriminating evidence to justify political actions.....learning about history could provide educational benefits at all levels of social development and caters for an instinctive human capacity for gathering information....i suppose its down to how we 'use' this information..

.... there may well be some truth in the philosophy that ignorance is bliss, but faced with the potential of the human mind, and to not use it, would surely be forfeiting the very substance of the human experience itself...a bit of a wishy washy statement i know.....but i have to believe that there are at least some out there define their historical education in a more positive manner...

..i hear what Northman is saying and the religious aspect to his points..i have noted in my own albeit limited experience that most people involved in the serious study of history have been athiests..or readily adopt a 'neutral' stance when it comes to personal beliefs...it appears to add to a degree of objectivity...

..this has all been very interesting...

..onwards and upwards hopefully...

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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-May-2006 at 09:49

That human beings learn, and learn avidly, is indisputable.

At least as children.

Where the problem arises is with unlearning - when assimilating new facts and experiences involves recognising that one's previous beliefs, held as a result of time and effort spent learning in the past, are wrong.

A fabled Zen master was asked by a follower if he would help him learn. The master passed the aspirant a full glass of water, and said: "Please pour me a drink in that."

 

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-May-2006 at 12:08

Originally posted by Act of Oblivion

..i guess here, this is all down to developing that 'understanding' and education, the sharing of historical knowledge between diffrent peoples, much like history authors debating orthodox, revisonist and post-revisonist views of historical events.....

How long would it take to prepare a universally accepted history?What would be the expenses involved?

Would you be able to distribute these unbiased history books.At what cost.

Originally posted by NorthMan

We also (EU)subside our farmers so they can export their goods at dumping prices which makes it totally impossible for local farmers elsewhere to make a living.

It's better if you stop giving fat farmers these subsidies.That would help a starving average man more than any grandiose and non-practical plans for world history or world government.

Originally posted by gcle2003

Where the problem arises is with unlearning - when assimilating new facts and experiences involves recognising that one's previous beliefs, held as a result of time and effort spent learning in the past, are wrong.

A fabled Zen master was asked by a follower if he would help him learn. The master passed the aspirant a full glass of water, and said: "Please pour me a drink in that."

Well said Sir.Pour me a drink.I have neither the glass nor the water.

 




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  Quote Genghis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-May-2006 at 12:54
Originally posted by Paul

I always find that people like to place 'learning' upon a pedastal. The strange idea, learning is done by good people and only good things come from it.

Who was it who said, "Remember the past, we may need it again in the future"............ Oh yes, it was a Stalinist.

Mao Tse Tung always claimed he learn't everything from the first emperor. Pol Pol was a major student of history and his Year-One was supposed to be inspired from a complete understanding of the mistakes of the past. Hitler looked at WWI and was motivated by not making the same mistake again.

That's all very true.  However it shows that some people don't learn from the past to become "better" people, just more successful people.  Learning doesn't imply good intentions.

That's the reason I despise the simple minded liberal view of international relations that says "mankind will learn that war isn't worth it".  WRONG!  Some will come to that superficial conclusion, but others will only conclude that others failed in their execution of unsuccessful wars.



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