Saturday, February 04, 2006

History as prison

I see history as inherently tragic: our potential is vast but our reality is invariably shockingly primitive. We can see the open vistas but are never able to break free of the walls of ignorance, prejudice and aggression. The structures we have are fundamentalist in essence, shallow and viscious: any enlightenment there is seems to be quite an accidental byproduct of the market economy which has already changed its direction finding now the entertainment industry even better than protestant Christianity or liberalism in securing returns to capital.

History goes where power goes and power is based on our panicky, animal reflexes for security and comfort. In that sense I do hope for an end to history by securing a non-scarce enlightened society with permanent values of openness and reason. We have the potential for that, the potential for limitless visions - but will we ever realize these dreams? The human condition as it appears to us, being situated in the midst of history, is fundamentally tragic, has always been fundamentally tragic. Would we lose something profound, something essential if we would lose this tragedy? In many ways probably yes: pain and suffering are related to creation, to the infinite depths of experience, to form and beauty. But the prize is too high, the method too primitive and cruel.

1 comment:

helsinkian said...

Human beings have a capacity toward evil. We can't avoid tragedy from recurring. As long as we remain human, there will be no end to history. If history is essentially the history of suffering and tragedy, that will always be there in one way or another. The prison that stops us from seeing what is happening around us lies only in our own ignorance.

Now even if bad things are happening, progress is real. Sometimes progress (as the history of WMD shows) can lead from bad to worse, without a doubt. The fear of one monster can be superseded by a worse monster appearing and that monster can be of our own creation. These aspects can't be counted out.

But still, I'm a progressive at heart and I think serious issues can be addressed and conflicts between religions, nations, ethnic groups or even continents can be overcome and old enemies can become newfound friends. This doesn't mean history ends when one conflict is solved. As the end of the Cold War meant the end of just one episode in history, an end in the current tension between religions will one day mean that some other conflict will take center stage. Still, healing a conflict that has bruised relations between millions of people is the greatest gift one generation can achieve. The end of the Cold War was a remarkable milestone in human history but it shouldn't lead into complacency or lack of historic perspective.