Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Job as Professor of History

Dr. Mehler, the host of the Barry Mehler Show, never tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because there is no truth to tell any longer. Simply put, the problem is that in the modern world political, technological and scientific jargons, inaccessible to the non-specialist, have created a situation in which language is receding exponentially from the grasp of ordinary people. Worse still, propaganda, advertising and mass communications are making truthful speech impossible. Modern speech is nothing more than an eroded jargon. Even when we talk to ourselves it is nothing more than a string of clichés.

We are engaged in historical analysis. Nothing is understood outside of the tightly woven fabric of what we “know” as facts, for example, that cigarette smoking relaxes the throat. Don’t believe me, take the Camels challenge - smoke Camels for thirty days and see for yourself if your throat doesn’t feel more relaxed. Remember, more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

We once knew the earth was flat, we were the center of the universe and the apple of God’s eye. Then we knew that matter and energy and time were all separate things. Now we know that everything we knew was mistaken, ergo, everything we now know is probably also mistaken. Where does that leave us?

An object, like a pack of cigarettes, is understood by how it fits into our tightly woven fabric of reality. We, like the moon, are caught in the gravitational field of something much larger than we are. The moon might like to travel in a straight line, but the fabric of space-time is warped and it cannot escape. Our thoughts are like that. We see a pack of Camels and our thoughts are filled with all the cliché’s we have heard over and over. All around us adults smoke. From the movies we learn of the pleasures of mixing tobacco and sex. After a fine dinner we light up a cigar. Everyone knows that tobacco is good for the digestion.

I am not interested in historical chronology or “wie es eigentlich gewesen war.” My focus is on the metaphysical contours of history. For example, democracy was an unintended consequence of the American Revolution. Furthermore, unintended consequences are the rule, not the exception in history. We never know what will come from our efforts, individual or communal.

So, what is the shape of history? Are we moving forward, making progress, going in circles? Or, are we, like everything else in the universe subject to entropy?

This is a radically new way of thinking about historical reality. Clearly, understanding reality is more difficult than at first imagined. You have to make a conscious effort to focus on the hocus pocus. And that is my job as professor of history, to provide the hocus pocus. Your job is to figure it out. I don’t have the answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment