I heard many times that history is essential not to repeat the same mistakes. I’m afraid I have to disagree. I agree it’s important to know the past, but we cannot repeat the same mistakes since the Industrial Revolution.
Two years ago, I knew almost nothing about history. I was a bit ashamed about it, but not embarrassed enough to do something about it. What triggered my interest in history were the problems we face today. I wanted to understand the why.
By why, I mean everything. Why the country I live in has democracy as a political system. Why others have a different one. Why people believe in God. Why some people don’t. Why we fight about it. Why we invented technology we use every day. Why we don’t invent different things. Why we do all of that now and not yesterday or tomorrow. Why we still hate each other. Why we face problems such as climate change, bottom billion, or terrorist attacks. And many more why questions.
This post is not about those questions and definitely not about answers to them. I’m even more clueless about some topics than a year ago! History is very complicated. Nevertheless, I think history is important, and you should learn it. This post should convince you.
Ok, why? :-)
To better understand the situation we live in. I don’t believe that history is repeating. I can agree that history was repeating until the 18th century, but people broke the cycle.
There is this loop: situation → solution → new situation.
Solutions before the 18th century changed the situation only slightly. It’s natural; nature is also evolving very slowly. Industrial Revolution changed everything rapidly. The steam engine—the solution—created an entirely new situation. Production speeded up, and it triggered many other revolutions much much faster. Capitalism. Human rights. End of monarchies. Cars. Planes. Internet. Smartphones. The situation is entirely different with each invention than before.
Since then, each generation starts with a completely different situation facing other problems. We cannot repeat the same mistake, at least not in the same way, because we have a situation which was simply not here before. My generation needs to fight with phone addiction or climate issues. The next generation will probably have to fight for universal basic income because of even higher automation. After that, another generation will have to solve what to do with artificial intelligence or modified people on the DNA level…
The situation we are in will never be the same. I think it’s important to know what generations before you did. Their doings are cause for a condition you are in. Maybe then you will not be so angry about it, and you will not blame them for that. It’s easy to say how horrible actions our ancestors took, but have you tried to analyze their situation without knowledge of the future?
These days, people complain about not tackling the climate issue before/sooner. I don’t blame anyone because I roughly understand what happened. They had a situation, and they used the simplest solution to solve it. Climate change is the result, and guess what, we will also use the simplest solution. We will do it with a clear conscience. We will believe we do the best thing until the next generation will come and prove us wrong.
If you can appreciate the knowledge of history and see more clearly why people did what they did, you can apply the same thing everywhere. For example, in your job. I’m a computer programmer, and when I know a history of the project, I can easily reason about strange parts of the code. Thanks to the knowledge of history I know if that part of the code has to be changed (and how) or not.
I know, it’s hard. Easier is to be furious about what others do wrong. But maybe you will be able not to see everything as bad as it seems once you understand better their situation and the world around them.
To sum it up: history is important. Not because we tend to repeat the same mistakes without knowledge, but because we can make a more educated decision once we understand our situation.
Next time, I will start my series about human history.