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writing for godot


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Friday, 22 December 2017 20:07


1. Conventional historians are inclined to use histori­cal information of previous historians to supplement what they find during their research and to flesh out old and/or new details provided by their findings. As readers of history, we cannot be certain that historical details are 100 per cent accurate, particularly from a human rights (HR) perspective. This serves as a cautionary tale about using (or misusing) evi­dence to often support what have been nationalistic agendas. This debate involves the trustworthiness and credibility of historians’ accounts and the influence of nationalism on the interpretation of their narratives. Whom do we believe? And can we ever tap evidence from hundreds of years in the past to establish the origins, legal claims and the ignored birth rights of peoples then and today? While there is a concerted effort among historians today to avoid being unduly influenced by nationalism or other similar sentiments, that may not always have been the case. (Eric H. Cline)


2. In conventional history, intelligent and persuasive chronicling has too often been used as a fig-leaf to justify domination, HR violations and destruction. (Stephen Cave) Some have called this ‘historicizing beneficience’:


  • Consider: Have the abuses of tyranny only been miserably hushed by the influence of sheer self-interest of the haves and carefully hidden shame? (Edward Gibbon)
  • Consider: Is conventional history a contested discipline that shapes our perception away from social justice?
  • Consider: Learned tomes by historians, economists, political scientists and other scholars fill many bookshelves with explanations of how and why the process of modern economic growth or ‘the Great Enrichment’ exploded in Western Europe in the 18th century. Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture --it was in good part pilfering. (Joel Mokyr) Think slavery and colonialism (actually also the ongoing historic processes of neocolonialism). (Lori Hanson)
  • Consider: Famine, plague, HR violations and war. These have been the four scourges of human history. The question is: How were their true causes recounted…?
  • Consider: Today, people in growing number of countries are more likely to die from eating too much rather than too little, more likely to die of old age than a great plague, and more likely to commit suicide than to die in a war. The question is: How are their true causes chronicled today…? (Derek Thompson)


Is the past to be seen in some way as a prelude of what is to come?

-Many experience the course of history with total indifference.

-Against any rationale of history, the clarion call from those in power, has by and large, been “let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday”. (Roberto Savio)


3. When we look at the past through the eyes of the present, we find huge cemeteries of abandoned potential futures, e.g., struggles (including HR struggles) that inaugurated new possibilities, but were neutralized, silenced, or distorted; futures murdered at birth, or even still-born futures; contingencies that determined the winning choice of the haves later ascribed to ‘the course of history’. That is why we mourn so many whose HR were violated with impunity, so many dead --though never the same dead since the bad things that happened in the past continue to happen right now.


The trivialization of innovation goes hand in hand with the trivialization of ongoing historical horror

4. Too many people have long given up making-the-world-happen and, therefore, accept with resignation the fact the-world-happens-to-them. (Ever thought about the long-term consequences of the widespread use of smartphones?). These include the cynics, the professionals of skepticism, those who ask little of the future. However, there are groups of people, very dissimilar in kind and size, for whom giving up on HR is just not an option. These still-minority-groups can be powerful though. With the exception of ‘neoliberal fundamentalists’, skinheads and ‘radical Jihadists’, a growing number of minority groups envision a better world to happen --every day defining and fighting-for a better future. The beginnings and evolution of this has simply not been too brilliantly chronicled by conventional historians. The history of the last many hundreds of years recommends that we approach this phenomenon with due caution. Has this historical failure been the direct or indirect cause of the-imprisoning-lack-of-choice we have in which we live between extreme fundamentalisms, radicalisms and tomorrows with no certainty about what happens the day after tomorrow? More important than answering this question, it is crucial that we know how we get out of here. If historically democracy and revolution were chronicled on opposite sides of the divide and both democracy and revolution collapse(d), maybe the solution lies in reinventing them both so they can coexist in mutual articulation. Differently said, democratize the revolution and revolutionize democracy. (adapted from Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


Bottom line


5. I feel conventional history has been a closed system of (almost) historical periodicity. For a fairer account of the flow of the course of history, I think that what is needed/missing is history being written as a human relational field --embedding this in the reality of the economic, social and cultural milieu of the past (way before HR were codified…). What I am saying is needed is elevating the entire history of the HR victims and their struggles. I am thus seeking historical vindication of, what I think, is an inaccurate rendering of historical facts by shifting the historico-political emphasis aspects of history, i.e., viewing history through a biased social, historical and political lens.*

*: Beware historians: More than ever, the West’s unresolvable moral ‘quest for innocence in a post-colonial world’ needs to be put to rest. I think historians can do more, guided not only by introspection, humility, and reflexivity, but also by a practice of solidarity and social justice and a rigorous critique of the systemic and structural issues into which their work is inserted. (Lori Hanson).


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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According to historian Walter Scheidel, based on historical evidence, the suppression of inequality was only ever brought forth in times of sorrow, i.e., economic inequalities are usually narrowed most effectively as a result of cataclysmic events: war, revolution, the collapse of states and natural disasters. Scheidel concludes that these catastrophic levelers are gone for now, and are unlikely to return any time soon. This casts doubt on the feasibility of future leveling. But, is this true? The proletariat of early industrial societies did turn out to be a different kind of historical subject from all other oppressed classes. Its early revolutions were abruptly redistributive for the very reason Marx outlined: It had no stake in society, but had the means to mobilize itself independent of demagogic factions of the elite. Only specific types of confrontation have consistently forced down inequality. Scheidel asks whether war has to be total; revolution to be ultraviolent and socially pervasive; state failure to lead to violence so intense that ‘it wipes the slate clean’. Social democracy is actually something very new in history. Social democracy wishes to suppress inequality in a controlled, consensual way, using the very state the elite has fashioned and entrenched; the only problem is that, for 30 years, social democracy lost the will to redistribute (other than upward…). Human rights work should not adopt the pessimism whose premise pervades this thinking. (Paul Mason) your social media marketing partner


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Founder, Reader Supported News

+1 # MediaOps 2017-12-31 23:40
This feeds into the idea that history is untrustworthy, which feeds into the idea that everything is a hoax, so we should just give up, change the channel & quit thinking about it.

It's \ easy to cast doubt on history if, like most people, you're too lazy to cross-reference historical records. But like science, history (especially recent history) can be tested, investigated, demonstrated and verified.

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