This post is part of my 30 blogs in 30 days series. More details here.
There are constant calls, especially of Western left, to be on the ‘right side of history’. The contention being that history is a true, objective moral judge. This is a myth. Historical acceptance is subjective; your view on who’s the aggressor and who is the oppressed during the Crusades would be very different based on your background. Similarly, Columbus was until recently, celebrated as a hero in the US. Given that he never even
There are three proposition one has to accept to believe this myth. All of these seem hollow eve when you do a rudimentary analysis in light of actual history. History is not an arc, not a monolith and should not be seen as a story with heroes \and villains.
Propositon #1 — It bends towards justice
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice
Most famously quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958. In context, it was about the power of truth and righteousness in face of oppression. In 2009, Then President of the US, Barrack Obama, paraphrased the last part and attributed to History, it self. President Obama may not have a firm grasp of the past. MLK himself was fighting Jim Crow laws and segregation imposed after the reconstruction. There were more African Americans in Congress after the US Civil War than in 2009.
This also suggest that history is a trend that never shifts. Just because the right now, at this moment, social justice and accounting for the sins of the past takes precedence means it will always be so. This is complacent and self-aggrandizing. It assumes that not only that all of the past are a straight line, but that this is the most important point in time because we are living through it. The line supposedly divides the right side from the wrong.
Proposition #2 — There is one shared and accepted globalized interpretation of history.
There isn’t. History is written by the victors, but ever since genocide became out of fashion, the losers survive. And they have their own ideas about what happened. Some times the situation changes and the losers become the victors. Sometimes, time passes and memories fade. The events of the past are reinterpreted under new lens. The new lens is not always a pleasant one. Case in point, the current resurgence of Nazism in the west, or the complete refactoring of Indian history in the current Modi-era.
Proposition #3 — History has a Moral
Why is Alexander ‘The Great’, Vlad ‘The Impaler’, or Chingis Khan ‘a barbarian? All three of them were responsible for their fair share of death and destruction?
Great Man history has not been en vogue for a while, but recent trends is academia has also been switching more towards research of events and primary sources and less towards glorification & lionization, and villainization. But that is boring. Humans have an uncanny knack for patterns and stories. We want good guys and bad guys, dammit! The problem is that someone’s hero is someone else’s monster. The Great Khans are still celebrated in Mongolia, Che Guevara was more than a T-Shirt icon, and Xi Jinping is slowly rehabilitating the image of Mao and the cultural revolution.
To factor history as a simple melodrama also ignores one crucial aspect of it; We are living through it. The future may see us as villains. They may be right or wrong. Because there is not right side of history.