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The AWARE takeover April 23, 2009

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So recently a lot has been said about the AWARE takeover.  Talk on the Net has been going on about them being fundamentalist Christians.  But first, before throwing that word around until it becomes so empty of meaning whatsoever, it’s worth asking what ‘fundamentalist’ is.  Do they follow a literal reading of the Bible, which is an accepted definition of ‘fundamentalism’: the reading of any holy text such that it is literally, i.e. word-for-word true?  We’ll probably never know, because interpretation is something which, although a higher authority can dictate how certain passages are to be interpreted, the individual is doing the interpretation.

Word is going around that we have a Deep Throat too, exposing mails regarding members joining AWARE.  They call for members to ‘give the vote to those who wish to be an agent of change for the Lord,’ and how ‘Our nation needs your support and action very urgently!’ Sounds like a Crusade in preparation, doesn’t it?  Actually, i’m not so concerned about the AWARE takeover.  There will, naturally, spring up another group which will try to continue the old AWARE’s tradition, even as AWARE becomes potentially more and more radical.  Think the amendment will work?  A power grab is in place and we are seeing it unfolding before our own eyes.

What i’m more interested in is this: reflecting on the Crusades, Ludwig Feuerbach said that religious belief and love were antitheses.  Christianity understands itself as absolute and universal – the Christian God is what metaphysicians would call the Absolute, the One, and they would give this entity a lot of adjectives beginning with omni-.  This absolute nature of God can be found everywhere in the Bible, e.g. John 14:6, Acts 4:11-12 etc.  But in staging this takeover, and if the agenda the new AWARE has in mind is what people think it to be, isn’t the new AWARE contradicting itself?

If the leaked mails are genuine, someone feels under attack and they want to, how shall i put it, reinstate the status quo.  But in doing so, they are cutting off this problem of sexuality altogether.  The mails speak of a change of focus to other problems of women and families.  So where does the LGBT ‘problem’ go?  It seems that the takeover is explicitly anti-gay, and how can this be put in context with tolerance?  Can we not love a person who may be gay?  Would you love your son if he were gay?  Would you accept him as he is and not see it as a mental illness?  How do we reconcile religious belief with love?  Matthew 5:47 asks: And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?

If the new AWARE’s aim is to lessen the focus on the LGBT issue, then let’s say there’s a lesbian girl who is forced by weight of religion and social intolerance (i.e. having nowhere to run to) to be straight, act straight and all.  Is that not a form of discrimination?  In this case, the new AWARE members may think they are doing good, but how is it possible for them to equate ‘being this’ as good and ‘being that’ as bad?  What do they do more than others?  It is overly simplistic to do so, and that is certainly not the way to express universality.  There is not much love in this party indeed…


Introductions and Afterthoughts August 11, 2006

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WARNING: Heavy Reading Ahead. Okay, not so heavy as the past few. But still. Sit down, and read about it.

It’s scary, isn’t it? How come The Sandman has been able to give me such a rich insight into things, and why is it in my heart gradually becoming a compulsory lit text for all students? Okay, so it’s very disturbing sometimes….make that very disturbing. But still. Here a little something just to share with you.

For The Sandman, it pays to read the introductions. You’ll gain a much deeper insight into whatever is going to be told to you, be it comfortable or not. neil gaiman has many hidden meanings which probably won’t become clear unless you’re the man himself, or have been studying lit for like ages, probing into every nook and cranny for the slightest sense of hidden meaning (which is perfectly meaningless to do, in some cases, and i suspect it’ll warp your reading experience) I was reading the introduction for A Game of You, for the second time, post-reading, when it struck me at the the point gaiman was trying to get at. The point is so:

Have you ever heard of the Ich-Gesellschaft? The game of me? It’s probably something you’ll be familiar with, dear reader. It’s very simple, and perhaps very base, because simply put it’s the survival instinct multiplied by a few hundred thousand times, to encompass all your needs and desires. It doesn’t matter whatever happens, because I come first. And everything else is just to give the self context. In it, one tends to see all relationships as subordinate to the self…that everyone around is just to serve and further the self. And the point is that:

It’s not going to work.

We can never hope to win the game of I, because being humans, we’ll always want more. We’ll always want it better. And then this expands into the universe we’ve built around us, by enforcing our needs and desires, either implicitly or explicitly, upon those around us. A man wishes for a son, but got a daughter. His disappointment is a huge source of indignation for the wife, because she carried the unborn one for 10 months, didn’t she? And so the birth of a new life, one of the magical moments, becomes a source of conflict in the household. It’s always the question of what I want, and not what you/we/everyone else is waiting for.

Politics, for example, is simply the game of I carried onto the stage of Weltpolitik. Whatever a country wants most, that country will strive to get – however, this is done in the full knowledge that because other countries are also playing this very same game, so there’s no way you are going to come first. Weltpolitik is, thus, nothing more than a game of chess, but the stakes for which are unimaginably high. International arbiters like the UN, for example, are probably nothing more than the voice of reason, and within the UN, the game is being played too. They’ll only think of you when they can get something nice out of it.

In A Game of You, gaiman tries to emphasise on the point that the only game we can ever hope to come out tops at is the game of you. Which is probably true in a sense, and would promote world peace if people actually began to think that way. Relationships bind both ways. Although they restrict us at times, but on the other hand, they’re what gives us support and a light in our dark hours. Do you get what i’m trying to say?

What i’m trying to say is that although the self is important, sometimes we should give others priority, because if we do, we’ll be better off as a whole. The actions of others influence us, just as our actions influence them. You can’t become what you really want to be without support from me, or him, or her, but taken from their 1st person perspective, you can’t become what you really want to be without support from me.

Great things aren’t great without the experience. If you fast-forwarded through all the hardship, support and love, where would the ‘great’ be in great things? And who would you have to thank for the laurels you rest on? And as a perfect counterpoint to it, while great things remain intrinsically…great (as the name must suggest by now,) it’s the little moments when your friends, lovers and family lend you support, a shoulder to cry on, or a helping hand which probably makes it really that worthwhile.

Everything’s a Game of Power May 22, 2006

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen, WARNING: Heavy Reading Ahead.
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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. Nothing challenging as in the philosophical stuff, but definitely something to think about. Avoid if you have a headache. Do not operate heavy machinery.

I just came back from watching the Da Vinci Code. And i must say that although it's very complicated (it's just a labyrinth of scheming power play which any politician would be proud of) with a lot of cleverly used historical knowledge. As Teabing says:

When history is written, murderers become heroes.

How true that statement is. Anyway, y'all will probably have read the book or seen the movie, so i'm not going to give you a spoiler here. The message he's trying to bring across, i believe, is that even organised religion (like the Church) is also subject to power games. Power is everywhere.

Let's see. Taking Opus Dei and The Priori of Sion to be exactly as portrayed in the movie (i hope you know by now that they are not,) then the movie is just about power. One side fights on the side of the Vatican, secretly trying to destroy the Holy Grail just so that there will be no challenge to Church authority, even if the Church is against it, whereas the other is dedicated to protecting the identity of Jesus' bloodheritage no matter what, until the time is ripe for him/her to reveal his/her identity. I'm sure you'd be able to imagine the repercussions of someone claiming the bloodright of Jesus Christ for the Church – suddenly, everything which was attributed to Jesus – chaste, pure, single, immortal, etc., – would all seem an illusion. Jesus would then be a human – an extraordinary human, nonetheless – but still human, neither immortal nor god.

To this end, a lot of ancient history and history of the middle ages are twisted, and must be taken with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper – obviously, i can believe the blade and chalice theory, but that the Knights Templar were originally founded to protect the Holy Grail, and that they only had access to Mary Magdalene's grave, is hard to believe.

Some actual history for you all: The Knights Templar was founded in the aftermath of the First Crusade, circa 1096 A.D., to protect the many European immigrants who migrated to Jerusalem after it was conquered by the Crusaders. It was not a warrior order of the Priori of Sion founded to guard the Grail. It is equally unlikely that they had access to Mary Magdalene's sarcophagus, even if the Knights Templar grew to become exceedingly rich.

What's true is that the Knights Templar ran afoul of a French king's machinations, probably due to a land dispute, which caused them to be arrested and tried by the Pope. Despite a secret pardon, the Knights Templar ceased to exist in 1314, when the surviving leaders of the order were burned at the stake. The suspicion that the Knights Templar held the Holy Grail could be an accusation used against them by the Pope in passing judgement. Either way, the Pope was weak and the Emperor strong; a very clear picture of power play here – the Vatican could have lost much support if the Emperor decided to stop paying royalties to the Church.

I don't know why, but i feel that the main theme of this movie is all about power and those who are crazy for it. Even those so-called 'holy' organisations are also subject to power. I guess it's a sad but true fact: wherever there are humans, there will always be a power struggle. Utopia is pretty much impossible…well i mean, a utopia which is stable.

Of course, these power games are never obvious – but oftentimes they're not very well concealed. You just have to give it some thought (sit down and drink some teh tarik, go for a fag, discuss it over martinis [dialectic is a good way to discover things especially if you're a tad inebriated] read the Tarot, read the newspapers, read a mystery thriller, go to the movies, talk to a taxi driver – you get my drift) and it should become quite clear to you.

For example. If you give it some thought, you'd see why i don't think it's God's will that missionaries were sent to aggressively (keyword!) promote the Christian faith. Now, mind you, i'm not out to defame anyone's faith. Anyway, i am of the opinion that they were, unknowingly, part of a power play by the Western powers. By making people aware of the Christian God, they reduced the influence of the Emperor as the bearer of the Divine Right (for example, in China.)

In Ancient Rome, philosophy was deemed as an insidous poison of the youth, such that attempts were made to prevent the youth from philosophy. It was feared that they would become weak and inclined to think, rather than remain puritanical and warlike. The lesser they knew, the better.

Power struggles tend to bring out the worst of people. Some politicians, who have spent years and years building their country, and who have done a hell of a good job at it, resort to using lawsuits and other childish means to deal with small misunderstandings and infringements, even after an open apology was made. Many politicians view the opposition as the enemy and dedicate themselves to crushing them. Yes, instead of proving why their policies are better, they spend time trying to prove why the Opposition is unworthy of ruling the government. They fail to understand that they could use another voice in Parlament, and that a 70-30 or maybe even a 60-40 government works. There are even große Koalitionen which actually work. If 50-50 is too risky, then give yourself a small majority and see how it works out. A dedicated government will do what's best for the country egal, aus welcher Couleur sie kommen.

Yes, don't lie and claim to be a first-world democracy. There is no 'first-world democratic leadership' to speak of, for what kind of democracy does a one-party government have? Here is a dictatorship of sorts, but indeed it is an effective one. Not all dictators fall. Here, the dictator is intelligent enough to know that the people must be happy. And so, he takes care of their welfare and development. He carefully forges ties with other countries, waving carrots in their faces which are so fresh and juicy that they cannot resist. But it probably only functions in this corner of the World.

In the meantime, like any political organisation, this dictatorship attempts to consolidate its power by reorganising Wahlbezirke, denying those who voted against them the benefits they promised (es tut mir wirklich Leid, aber Ihren Aufzug wird zur Zeit nicht verbessert, aufgrund der Tatsache, dass Sie nicht für uns gewählt haben.) and capturing the political infidels. (Sie dürfen noch nicht abfliegen, da wir ein paar Fragen für Sie haben…)

I mean, it's pretty much obvious. Everyone knows what's going on, but they don't say anything. Meanwhile, the biggies are content to rest on their laurels until the next election. This is Mankind's only sin – the want of power. From ages long past til now until forever. Greek conquest. The Crusades. Witch-hunting. God is dead. Humans have killed him. Megalomania. Hitler. The A-Bomb. Iron Curtain. Vietnam. The 'War on Terror.' From then, to now. From now, to forever more.

Informationsquellen May 9, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

So, now we come to the historical issue of sources. Much has been said about it, and even yours truly remembers some very little detail of whatever he learned in History classes. Basically, sources can be classified broadly into two groups: primary and secondary sources. Do i have to elaborate?

Primary sources are things which you see first-hand, like physical historical artefacts, monuments, et cetera. Secondary sources are what you read in the textbooks, because they were reported from somewhere else. Anyway, if you studied history in secondary schools/JC, although they made clear the difference between primary and secondary sources, but did you ever get the feeling that ultimately, we just treated all our textbooks (secondary sources) like primary sources because we studied them so religiously like the Bible?!

So is history all about the quest for unadulterated, genuine information about what happened in the past? Or is it the process of silencing all evidence which speak for themselves (like artefacts) through the process of interpretation? Opening it to all discursive subjects, the question is: what's the real purpose of evidence?

Let's see. Some authors take evidence as referring to all the sources one goes to when pursuing some form of research, i.e., the evidence is in the record. But by blurring the differences between evidence and traces of information, such an approach tends to give one the naive view that most knowledge and evidence always organise themselves into logically sound progressions, which is probably quite untrue…it probably is the work of the researcher to make evidence out of those traces, in that the trace only becomes evidence when used to substantiate a particular argument.

Either way, it seems that the Passepartout for research is NOT to take the definition of evidence ambiguously. Let's define, then, evidence as the following:

evidence: Traces of information or information used to support a particular argument AFTER the argument has been laid down, not BEFORE.

Think about this lastly…evidence cannot logically act as a check on any kind of discourse…unfortunately, those of the former who believe that evidence encompasses all the sources one goes to for information fall into this logical trap, because they build their discourse based upon the evidence here, by setting the evidence as something which MUST have a fixed meaning, which has a place in the orderly logical world. This will see any discourse to ruination. Evidence is only used to give any particular discourse body and context; how can traces on their own have any meaning whatsoever?

Empathy II May 2, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

Here begins, ladies and gentlemen, an attack on empathy by linguistical means. Through language (more specifically, nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, et cetera,) the world gains form and meaning – but word and world are two completely different things. Applying this to history, we should say that the past is a foreign country – how can we tell if the etymology of the words have evolved with the times? In fact, we only have to cross national boundaries to discover that people actually speak and think differently in other countries; this should make the abovementioned statement even more so plausible for you.

Collingwood has proposed that the discourses of the time (with whatever limited vocabulary our forefathers may have possessed) had to do with their desires and needs. Pure history, then, if there is such a term, should then be concerned purely with this question:

Why did these people need all these things?

Histeriography, then, should be concerned with the study of the implications of these needs and desires. (Philosophically and psychoanalytically, one would notice that they had to do a lot with a love of power: perhaps this is one thing the modern man can empathise with.) Either way, to know the Zeitgeist of the past, we'll have to get into historical artefacts and items, as well as cultural remnants, to know what drove the ancient civilisations. Sounds idealistic? It should be…perhaps a lot of ideology is incorporated into this idealism. It's paradoxical, that something as personal as ideology is used to deal with something as factual as history.

Much empathy is to be found in liberal ideology. How so? Let's look at John Stuart Mill's idea of liberalism.

Men are allowed to do whatever they want, as long as whatever they do does not curtail the freedom of others.

Of course, this probably implies an inordinate amount of empathy, because it would be demanded of one to put him/herself in the shoes of others, to imagine the emotional impact or ratifications of one's actions, in order to have a balanced, pragmatic viewpoint on one's options. Unfortunately, this rationalism and balancing has a side-effect: When we begin to empathise, especially with people in the past, to try to see things from their perspective, we (unfortunately) bring our modern arsenal of tools along – maybe they were never rational people, but we assume they were.

Hence, what have we seen? Education, idealism and ideology all contribute to empathy. Generally, it looks like this:

Education gives a base of knowledge about the specific discourse to be studied. However, in certain discourses like history or maybe philosophy or literature, this base of knowledge is skewed towards one end unconsciously. Hence, education here serves to skew the student of this particular discourse towards one end, generating bias without emphasizing on the need for an open mind.

Now, for pure idealists, they tend to apply whatever they've learned in an attempt to understand those who have lived in the past, maybe Pericles of Athens, or maybe Friedrich Schiller, or Shakespeare. Empathy, empathy. But there are some blanks which are filled in by their imagination…whatever logically fits should work here for these idealists. However, empiricists, who demand facts, have blasted this idealistic methodology. But, to make their accounts sound as plausible as possible, they have to do a certain amount of imagining as well. And you ought to know the risk of imagination by now: applying today's methods to yesterday's people…So…if our forefathers thought really strange thoughts, how are modern historians to even begin to empathise with them? How are we going to ensure that historians give historical figures 'the right human nature?'

Empathy I April 28, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

Sich in unsere Wegbereitern hineinversetzen, um einen Einblick in die Vergangenheit zu gewinnen.

Basically, empathy here has nothing to do with sympathising with anyone. It's the act of placing yourself in one's shoes, so that you can fully understand the conditions one currently finds him/herself in. The question now is: is empathy possible?

How many times people ask that you try to put yourselves in his/her shoes…but thinking carefully, do you really think you CAN do it? You'd probably sympathise with him/her, but will you react exactly how that particular person in question will react under the same conditions? I doubt so. When you say, 'i feel for you,' you actually mean that you think you understand what he/she is currently going through. You don't understand fully, however, what's going on.

There are basically two ways of examining this problem: philosophically and practically. Philosophically, there's this problem of other minds, that is, given that we are not psychic and that we do not possess the ability to communicate telepathically, is it possible for us to enter the minds of people we know well and perceive things through their thoughts? Wittgenstein and other philosophers considered it impossible, but yet many historians write their histeriographies as if they were psychic and had access to a time machine, that it was possible to enter the minds of people long dead and buried. They weren't even close to us, and yet these historians seek to unveil the truth by assuming that they understand them fully.

The second philosophical attack on this viewpoint of many historians is that communication is actually equivalent to translation. Everything the past communicated to us through artefacts, runic scripts, et cetera, has gone through some transcription by some historian, who applies techniques and mindsets taught today to something which has existed for millenia. All history is contemporary history, because what we are developing is not true history. We're just developing further theories and axioms about what the past ought to have looked like, just as we are probably bending the discovery of new artefacts to fit our image.

Criticism of literary textes has also come to be treated as an obstacle to empathy. If criticism is intended to make a literary text more understandable and at the same time reflect an appreciation of the text, then there also is the risk that criticism comes between the original meaning of the text and the reader. The meaning and intentions behind it are warped. So, to criticise or not to criticise? Perhaps there is a good point: by reducing the variation of viewpoints on any one text, criticism tends to lead to homogeneity in these discursive subjects. Maybe it serves the aims of modern-day education, which is probably to roll bright students full of facts off the production line with as high a turnover rate as possible; but to produce inquisitive minds…erm, not very useful.

Anyhows, let's look at empathy from a more down-to-earth viewpoint. Let's go to schools, where subjects like history are taught using a specific textbook as a model text. Let's assume that this textbook has to do with European history between the World Wars. This textbook probably draws its materials from other sources, like those thick archaic texts you find in university archives or in forgotten bookstores.

Either way, the content is filtered by the author of this textbook according to the examination requirements, which mean that the content is already reduced to whatever the syllabus demands, perhaps that the Germans were able to believe Hitler wholeheartedly because he was a strong, confident and charismatic leader when the Fatherland was at her knees. Anyway, the school textbook only provides one perspective, which all are expected to study religiously. In other words, when a student in Singapore is asked 'How did the Treaty of Versailles contribute to the outbreak of the Second World War?' he/she is not being asked for his/her own opinion, even if there's a true stroke of genius behind it. The context is not that of Europe in the 1920s, but that of the classroom.

To be continued…

Fakten und Interpretation April 15, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

More on history! Hah. If you actually paid attention bothered to read the posts in this particular group, you'd probably know more or less where this is going to go. It's that question of 'are there real facts or is history pure interpretation?' Because, you see, historians (and many others whose vocations are those of discourse) are not just content to take an outsider's disinterested view on facts per se…you see, when exactly World War I broke out in 1914 isn't as important as the significance of it.

You see, that's a big problem with not just historical texts, but with many other texts today (be it literature, philosophy, anthropology, et cetera) : The interpretative dimension, when past facts, words, sayings and beliefs are translated (here, made meaningful) into today's context. We can't find out for sure what exactly happened, or we can't know for sure what it meant then, could we? So these texts have significance and relevance for the modern reader only because they have been worked through and reworked by those who profess to be experts in the area.

I suppose that personally, this is inevitable. Not that it's bad, because in a sense, we're taking an outsider's view into what happened then, from which we can draw our own inferences and learn from the mistakes of the era (if indeed they were considered mistakes then.) Any fool can learn from his own mistakes, but only a wise man will learn from the mistakes of others, or so the general thought is. I guess this is particularly predominant in an area such as history or anthropology, which busies itself with facts. In other areas, theories and ideas were passed down, although we cannot say for sure that they have degraded in their significance or meanings, can we? The historical Socrates and his theories must have certainly varied somewhat from the philosophies of the Platonic Socrates…and that is because of Plato's interpretations.

Because this interpretation is inevitable but difficult to stomach, some historians have suggested the existence of a central body of facts, from which interpretation is performed only at the very rim of. What he means is that because of the historian's perspective, interpretations can be represented by say, The Left and The Right. At the centre of this spectrum lies the acknowledged central body of facts – a balance of sorts, since the interpretations are drawn from there. That centre, according to most historians, is what students of History should focus on – not what the historians say.

All fine and good, but all history was written by someone, non?

Taking this one level higher about this Left-and-Right theory, we can never know if this central body of facts is actually 100% factually correct, will we? Whoever is in power certainly has the will and authority to mangle history to his ends, and once the full histeriographic dimension develops, one can see that this central body isn't the centre of much. In fact, it is just some point of a spectrum of facts, mangled and twisted by various agencies into a multitude of truths.

A small example would be WWII in Asia. Japan's truth is definitely different from the truths of China, Korea, South-East Asia, which will have small differences amongst themselves. Local patterns of dominance and marginalisation are at work here. Will a dominant power admit that their country was wrong? I don't think many Americans would admit that they lost the Vietnam War.

So what should we study? Should we build a time machine and return to the past and try to understand the past as it was (which i doubt will be successful) or should we dedicate ourselves to a broad study of many histeriographies of a particular period of time, in order to make our own references and at the same time, gain perspectives which you might never have seen?

Über die Wahrheit April 9, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

Today’s little lesson also has to do with History. What is truth? Why do we keep searching for it in the first place? Is it due to an intrinsic fear of the unknown? The knowledge that nothing is true? Of course, without the concept of truth, many other concepts would cease to be valid – objectivity, justice, et cetera. Of course, it also has to do with philosophy.

Western philosophy, which finds its roots in Plato and the ancient Greek philosophers, holds that absolute truth is attainable via philosophical reflection and argumentation. Thus, knowing the truth of, say, virtue, one would be expected to live in a rational, ethical way because it would be irrational to do otherwise. In fact, much of modern ethical theory is based on this. Is it true, for example, that it is wrong to steal because you have a hungry family to feed at home? Perhaps it’s not so clear here. Most of us, however, will feel that it is wrong to harm someone intentionally very true. How about theology? Is the Gospel of God the absolute truth? Based upon religion, we can judge everything to be absolutely right or wrong.

Unfortunately, today we’re living in a society where truth is increasingly being undermined. We’ve seen reason being unable to stop irrationality (Hitler and Nazi Germany. More recently, Gulf War II, when Iraq was attacked on suspicion.) We’re living in a world where the omniscience of God is being called into question. Indeed, keith jenkins postulates that truth is a concept, something which is ultimately, just self-referencing. It’s only true in its own context. However, i beg to differ. This truth is slowly becoming reality, not just a concept. I shall attempt to explain.

In the past perhaps, there were more truths because power was more secular. So perhaps there was the truth of the Chinese Emperor, the truth of the Pope, the truths of kings, princes and royalty. Truth is only controlled by those who have the power to – and thus, there are many many versions of truth. Truth, as such, is a regulatory system for what people should believe.

In extreme cases. let’s consider the authority of the Church from the tenth to fourteenth centuries. A period of crusades, the extermination of the Templars, and witch-hunts. The Church controlled education then; as such, it had the power not just to decree what was true and what was heretical; but also to make these ideas take root amongst the masses. Aberrations were not tolerated then. Anyone who so much as spoke against the church ran the risk of divine punishment, or at the very least, imprisonment and torture.

The Church preached purity and true faith then, even as it fell victim to Italian power plays. This was a big cause which led to the Reformation later. But enough ancient history. The question to ask is such: As globalisation erodes boundaries and unites the world, increasingly the various truths will disappear. How will we then ensure that the one and only truth is as factually correct/rational/ethical as possible? How will we ensure that those who are enforcing the truth do not betray it?

Was verstehst Du unterm Begriff ‘Geschichte?’ March 13, 2006

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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

What is history? Classically defined, history is the study of happenings in the past, an attempt to glean all one can know from the past while staying factually correct. To many, History is a ‘dead’ subject – one doesn’t have to make his own inferences nor his own interpretations, all one needs to know is what books are good for History, and what texts are there to refer to.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons why I detested History in secondary school. For me, I need to study something living…I don’t want to study facts and facts and facts. For me, History was something which was dry, something which I couldn’t apply, and we learnt neither theories nor practicality, but instead focused on memory work. I remember just regurgitating facts, instead of writing long, rambling essays about any particular topic (which I’d rather do, actually.) The thing is, we’ve been taught…erm…indoctrinated that whatever in the book is probably gospel truth, because history is about facts after all, isn’t it? (And you’d better memorise them if you want to fucking pass your exams…) What I’ve read in the 1st chapter of Re-thinking History (aptly entitled What History Is) has come to further reinforce my feelings about the classical treatment of the subject.

In dieser kleinen Lehre wird den Begriff ‘Geschichte’ auseinandergesetzt: What it means in a more classical context, and what it means to our dear author. And I’m coming to agree with our author. History, according to him, should be made up of two parts: the past, which is what really happened (and of course we have no means of knowing with absolute certainty what went on) and historiography, which is basically, what historians do. They gather evidence, re-process it according to methodologies they probably learnt at the university, and then try to piece together a coherent story of what the past looked like. Therein, however, lies the problem.

Because historiography is done by 1 million historians worldwide, there are bound to be conflicts, even if very minor ones, between each of the individual histories. And doesn’t this mean that there are about 1 million different accounts of the past, even if they only vary in very minor aspects? Let’s even take apart the word History. It says ‘his story.’ And that’s precisely what history is. To me, history was just a story of times long forgotten and ages long past, of battles fought and lost. And of course, it’s told by different people, in a different way. The only truth is the past, but since neither us nor any historian has ever been able to step into a time machine and go back, the past remains shrouded in mystery.

History is also influenced by the mentalities of the historians today. History, as the layman sees it, is an attempt to bring over the past into today’s context, so that we may look back, reflect, and learn the lessons of our forefathers. But let’s see. We’re analysing the happenings of the past from today’s perspective. This is something which leads to gross misinterpretations, especially in the study of the ancient days. How’re we to know what that particular happening meant to the people then? We’re inserting modern-day interpretations to things which happened millennia ago, interpretations only applicable to our context, things which may be totally irrevelant tomorrow.

Which leads to my next point. Because these interpretations are in a constant state of flux (depending on the prevalent mental model/whoever’s in power at the time) history changes as time passes. Although it will be, of course, difficult to rewrite history overnight, the current version of history will only last this long. It won’t be a thousand years before someone else disputes that the second Gulf War ever happened, for example, because it was never clear if it was an outright war in the first place. Imagine what would happen if by some freak of nature, the Middle East managed to conquer the Western world. They would re-write history all over again. The cessation of Israel to the Zionists would be hailed as a blasphemy, the Gulf Wars a crime, and maybe President Ahmadinejad would be a hero in history. So what does this tell all of you?

History is a game of power.

History, or, more precisely, historiography, is just the bending of past events, along with their relevance to today, to whoever is paying the historian to write that particular story. Case in point: The Nanking Massacre, a source of much bad blood between China and Japan, is still a huge point of contention in Eastern Asian politics, because one side insists it existed (which stands in many history textbooks today) while the other plays it down, saying that it is ‘questionable’ if it actually occurred. Ideologies vary from place to place, and with it history as well. In his essay, Jenkins mentioned that ‘those who control the present control the past and those who control the past control the future.What does mean?

It has all to do with what’s been mentioned above. ‘Those who control the present’ refer to whoever is in control of a particular social group; ‘Control the past’ refer to the ability to mangle past facts into a history which matches the ideals and wishes of that particular group’s leadership. The phrase ‘control the future’ refers to, however, the need for people to explain current occurances and future trends, using antecedents in the past.

My last point about what constitutes historiography (there’s really nothing much to say about the past; what happened happened. We can’t tell, however, what it meant) is that although there are several methods by which historians gather their information and make inferences, these several methods stem from several famous historians, which means that historians who swear by these methods (they most probably do, considering how they were introduced, and then taught in the university) will come up with slightly differing versions of history. And these methods change with time as well.

History, as taught in schools, seems to be composed of certain parts which change in sync with changes in general education theory. An example brought up would be the change of the ‘heartland concepts’ of history in the ‘60s of time, space, sequence, moral judgement, and social realism to the ‘key concepts’ of the 70s, which comprised of time, evidence, cause and effect, continuity and change, as well as similarity and difference. Obviously ‘heartland’ and ‘key’ here mean, generally, the same thing: they make up the core of the concepts taught in history at that particular time. A shift in general education policy will thus, cause different kinds of histories to be written. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the content may be essentially the same, but the implications and focuses are different. And that constitutes, in a sense, a different form of history.

It is, thus, recommended to see the various Histories as prisoners of time; they are locked away in the time at which they were written; because something written in the ‘80er may not be applicable anymore today. If you’ve noticed, the only concept which did not change was the concept of time, id est, only the times at which certain happenings occurred remained core to the History syllabus. Significances shift and flux, and that is exactly why history as taught does not equate to knowing the facts.

And because there isn’t one universally accepted History (with a capital font-size 200 H) nor a universally accepted histeriographical method, how are we to compare and contrast the multitude of histories we get against History? How are going to verify their truth? History is, thus, also a powerful weapon in controlling the masses via education. History is a tool which the intelligent will use to control their flock, by an educated amount of (ab)use. History comes in many embodiments, and it’s really only up to the responsible, capable education agency to choose the one which has the best impact on its students.

The past is dead – but history lives on. It’s re-born every day. Think about it. What is History?