Finding Truth in History

A person posed the following comment to me: “If your history had not lied to you, you would not have to imagine it.”

I would answer as follows: If by “history” you mean the recorded and interpreted accounts of the past, then I am not so sure that history lies any more than the recording and interpretation of present day events, or for that matter the speculations we may indulge from time to time of the future. What a recorder chooses to record or to omit from the record, and what spin he may put on it, are all aspects of interpretation. Even someone writing down unadulterated data about something that happened (how many people showed up at the rally, where the rally occurred, what was the temperature at various times of the day, etc.) is in fact interpreting. After all, why did he not write down how many pets were there? Or whether or how many buildings were defaced? Or the number of pamphlets left behind for street sweepers to discard? The fact that the data recorder did not include these data points at the very least indicates his assessment of what is and is not relevant in telling the story. That is an example of interpretation, and there is no history without interpretation.

The data recorder interprets, and the author interprets the interpreted data. Then, the reader interprets again. To the extent that there is dishonesty in history, therefore, it is a lie perpetrated by many actors. Like the experiment of a story whispered from one man to another around a large circle of storytellers and listeners, by the time history comes to us it is very difficult to discern the truth of what happened from the propaganda passed down through the ages.

Without wisdom all of history becomes propaganda, and without wisdom all persons are propagandists. No one is spared, for without wisdom we are all inclined to interpret the past to fit our preconceived prejudices and tribal prerogatives. If we are interested in the truth, then not one of us is spared the necessity of acquiring wisdom through experience and empathy.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

3 thoughts on “Finding Truth in History

    1. Someone did, actually, and I suspect he continues to hide his Report Cards inside an old, Victorian, steamer trunk as love letters to himself. His glee is a bit unsettling when he opens the trunk in the witching hour to indulge his past.

      Liked by 1 person

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