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Posts Tagged ‘human nature’

Surely, Man is the most paradoxical of creatures, given both to sublime love and kindness but also to the basest hatred and cruelty.  And devious, too, so that even his religion may be pressed into service to justify his sins.  But his conscience ever troubles him ; and, for that, we must thank God.

It may take centuries to tame his nature even a little ; but the taming is real, even if fragile.  Fragile especially in the presence of fear.  

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In a sense, everything is history.  For example, when I look at an object such as my computer screen, I am aware that I see it not as it is but as it was a fraction of a second ago ; this is because it takes a definite length of time for it to be neurologically processed and to be presented to conscious awareness.  When we move away from that kind of example towards more everyday awarenesses, to thinking about what to have for breakfast for example, things get even more historical ; if I decide on cornflakes, then where does my liking of them come from if not from pleasant memories of breakfasts past?

In a sense, then, while the arrow of time is always pointing forward, our sense perceptions of the world are always pointing backward.  It is as if Nature made us to feel more comfortable to look at the past rather than the future.

And in a sense, everything is spiritual.  For, even though I can persuade myself that I am looking at a material thing as I gaze at the computer screen, the moment I start to think about it, it becomes entirely a phenomenon of consciousness ; i.e., not material at all but spiritual.

These thoughts and others like them were crossing my mind as I enjoyed reading the history of the events following the Norman conquest, from the time of King William himself to King John.  I was conscious of enjoying that period of history as a purely spiritual pleasure ; for there is no way I could possibly enjoy it as a sensory one.  I might have imagined what it is like to be clad in heavy chain mail on the Sussex Downs ; I might have imagined what the weight of a swinging sword or mace might feel like ; I might have imagined the pain of taking an arrow-hit in the eye.  But there is no way that I can experience these things that are long in the past and beyond hope (or fear) of repetition.

“How wonderful life must be for the historian, I thought, living one’s subject entirely through one’s imagination!”

And imagination is but one short step back from its alluring cousin, fantasy.  “How comforting it would be,” I thought, “If the nobler Anglo-Saxons had never allowed themselves to become embroiled with those ghastly Normans and French!”

But then, history is history, as they say, and the events cannot be realistically imagined as being different from what they actually were.  All ‘what if’ scenarios are mere fantasy.  Perhaps that is why so many students of history see their subject as elaborate lists of dates, names and deeds ; nice and safe lists with little margin for error.  But surely this is not history at all ; it is  little more than chronology.

So, perhaps that is why they also like to have each item in the list tagged with the opinion of their teacher ; in the belief that this somehow adds veracity to the content of the list.  But such opinions are so often conditioned by the political opinions of the teacher, which always contaminate history with modern ideas alien to the age being studied.

Of course, history is bound to contain large amounts of historians’ opinion, but I do not think that this is what it is really about.  For, surely, no subject is worthy of study unless the student is in some way in love with the subject being studied.  And what is being studied in ‘History’?  it has to be simply people.  So the first requirement of an historian is to love people and, from that, to desire to know what they did and why they did it.  The ‘what’ is easy enough ; that is the bare menu.  But the ‘why’ is where the recipe is ; it leads to the kitchen where the tale of entire nations and civilisations is cooked up.

History is a tale with many story-lines, therefore with as many aims ; but apparently without an over-arching plot.  In 1066 nobody in England had the faintest suspicion of a Hanoverian monarch.  History has many chronologists but not an all-knowing author.

And yet there are patterns in history, which suggests something about human nature.  And the patterns do not lead to mere repetition of events, which suggests that human nature is changing.  For example, in general, the farther back we go, the more violent are the methods of government ; and this suggests that we are moving in a direction where force as a method is giving way to persuasion.  And violence, of course, is the outcome of ways of seeing the world and of ways of thinking.
Therefore, it seems to me that history is the tale of the evolution of human consciousness.  It is a spiritual tale.

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The United Kingdom is in the grip of election fever and, in this case, a malaise that resembles cabin fever.   It seems generally agreed that the Labour Party will pay the price for its treachery against the people of this country.  There is much talk of the demise of socialism.  “It is finished,” they say, “A flush busted for ever.”

But we have heard all such talk before.  I recall the obituaries for socialism around the time of the great Conservative victory in 1979.  Also I remember a similar euphoria from the other side in 1997, when Labour trounced the Tories.  That nice Mr Blair openly crowed about ridding the country of the “evil forces of conservatism.”  (What dark passions lurk in the minds of politicians?)

Well, here’s some news : this election will not herald the demise of any political doctrine.  The broad tenets of politics are embedded in, and emerge from, human nature.  Their particular flavours may change with time and circumstance, but the bases remain.

The moral problem with politics is that it revolves around the concept of power.  Politicians ask, “Who has the power?” and, “Who ought to have the power?”  And what is the key to political power?  But politicians rarely dig very deeply into the undoubted corrupting influences of power ; or, if they do, their thoughts quickly move on.  Every  politician promises to undo the corruption of his predecessors ; every politician believes himself to be incorruptible.

In the last thirteen years we have endured levels of governmental corruption not seen since the eighteenth century at least.  How many MPs have enriched themselves by simply dipping into the public purse?  And this from the ruling party that proclaims its commitment to fairness for all!  So much could be written.

So, no political party is going to bite the dust as a result of this election ; the political doctrines will be spared to fight another day.  And political corruption will continue, tamed a little, perhaps, but alive and well in their induced dormancy.

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