Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Don't Twist The Facts, Your Great-Great-Grandchildren Won't Be Impressed

In this blog I wrote about history and how best to manage it. In this blog post I just want to add something else important to it - something that probably isn't considered often at all. A good reason to be accurate on your views is the danger of how those views can be mapped in history. In other words, if we are sloppy in the present we run the danger of distorting future perceptions of history. Here's an example of what I mean. You'll hear some people say that Tony Blair is a war criminal and should be tried for war crimes for his involvement in Iraq. Now you may think the Iraq invasion unjust, that it was based on faulty intelligence, and that Blair is very culpable in the emergence of ISIS. But it absurdly distorts the picture to put Blair in the same 'war criminal' category as people like Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Even the most entrenched anti-war propagandists don't really believe that Tony Blair has the same propensity for wickedness, oppression and cruelty as those men.

But a long time in the future, people's version of ancient history (our present) will be compressed to less detailed packets of information, just as ours is now when we speak of long and complex periods such as the Bronze Age, or Acadian times, or early Roman times, or the Dark Ages. Even though every generation records more information than past generations did, future humans will still have the same cognitive limitations when it comes to memory and attention span, so they will still oversimplify history, and they will still distort information in a way that their distant ancestors would see as being carelessly inaccurate. 

Suppose we fast forward to a time so far in the future that Blair's involvement in Iraq was seamlessly lumped in among other historical events involving crimes against humanity like Nazi Germany, the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. A distant future citizen might inaccurately believe that Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Tony Blair belong in the same category together, just as someone unapprised of Roman history might think that Augustus belonged in the same category as Tiberius, Caligula and Nero. Even the most impassioned anti-war propagandists don't really believe that Tony Blair resembles Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein in his motivations, much less his actions, and this is why we must not be sloppy when laying down the historical foundations of information for our descendents.