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History Is Not Just About Documenting What Happened — We Must Learn the Patterns to Avoid Repeating Past Mistakes

It's difficult not to feel helpless, angry, and emotional with all that’s happening in the world.
History Is Not Just About Documenting What Happened — We Must Learn the Patterns to Avoid Repeating Past Mistakes

I made the mistake of reading the news while eating lunch before sitting down to write this newsletter. I don't avoid the news of the day, but I do try to manage my consumption and thus my state of mind.

The United States is heading towards the dark ages.

More states are blocking abortion and women's rights, and it seems the Supreme Court is next. LGBTQ rights are on the chopping block, with Trans* people taking the brunt of prejudice — for now. Education is being limited and controlled, and books are being banned or burned.

France is on the verge of electing a far-right president.

Russia is bombing civilians at a train station to name only one of their many atrocities in this stupid war so far.

It’s hard to know what to do, or even how to feel.

How Did We Get Here?

When did the world become so evil-appearing, so polarized, so light versus dark?

So many lives are being snuffed out for one awful reason or another, with more lives to be lost to prejudice, hatred, and fucking stupidity. Just this morning, I received an email response that broke my heart.

I was planning to do an interview with a lifelong LGBTQ activist in Canada. This person's health has been declining for a while, and we were working out how we could stage an interview over time and in part to facilitate their needs. This person's friend who is caring for them and managing their communication informed them that said person's health has dramatically worsened. They have received approval for MAID (Medical assistance in dying).

I think I'm sharing this with you because I also need to remind myself life is short.

It’s not just that life is short, but there are key lessons to take away from the situations I’ve shared above.

  • What are you doing — and going to do — with the time you have, not knowing how much time you have?
  • You don't need to compare yourself to anyone else for what they've accomplished. You only need to feel that you have and are doing your best. If you feel happy, contented, and free, you are fortunate and privileged.
  • When the shit of life hits you in the face, you can do something about it. You might need some help, or you might be able to make a difference on your own. No matter how small the difference, be courageous and take that first step.
  • If you think something needs to be done, or some injustice must be corrected, don't stand in the wings waiting for someone else to take the first step. If you don't know how ask for help. You don't have to be the leader, but you can certainly be a supporter.

For the majority of the developed world today, the real threats we face are born of human construction and invention.

Long-gone is the threat of being hunted by other animals or not having adequate shelter to keep us safe from harm.

The first threat is the damage we are causing to the planet's ecological systems through the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation resulting in the extinction of all forms of animal species, and extreme overpopulation.

The second threat is rooted in false fears propagated to seize power and control the masses. These threats are ideological. We have seen them throughout history as fascism, racism, the Crusades, the Salem witch hunts, Nazism, colonialism, and all fundamentalist religions.

These fears may take root in conspiracy theories like Q-Anon and depend upon two main factors to thrive and survive.

The first factor: you need to keep repeating the message so that its repetition makes it appear to be true (oral tradition survives with repetition) and maintains the anger and fear around the false narrative.

The second factor: you need a large base of uneducated and easily manipulated people who don't know how to think critically, and are living in a state of existential need.

If you don't have the capacity for self-actualization, your experiences of joy, happiness, and fun will be limited. Instead, you will seek salvation from zealots who only seek to control power over those they can lie to and indoctrinate.

A false-evidence story, often repeated, becomes the mantra of the disenfranchised who are seeking salvation through a saviour.

We have seen this play out in Roman times when oligarchs appealed to the masses to support their campaign to save the poor. The oligarch would win and govern only to serve their needs, tossing out those who gave him power. Trump, Putin, Orban and other right-wing populist leaders across the world know this playbook well.

Is Education Our Only Hope?

I think free and accessible education is our strongest weapon in the self-defence of truth and justice.

Is it any wonder that book burnings and the banning of books are on the rise in the United States?

Is it any wonder that laws are being passed to limit, restrict, and block education on two core subjects? Specifically, anything about race and the history of racism in the United States, and anything about gender and sexuality?

The narratives sound all too similar to Hitler's proclamations to the masses.

The GOP is acting out of the second threat I described above: false fears propagated to seize power and control the masses.

The aim of the GOP is to eliminate BIPOC and LGBTQ people from the earth.

And if you think that's hyperbolic, you have not been paying attention, reading the news, or contrasting what's happening today with what's happened in history.

As humans, we function in the world thanks to the prediction and response mechanism of our brain's 'operating system.' Our habits, behaviours, and automatic responses (like being able to walk without consciously thinking about it) keep us safe in the world. We are pattern recognition machines.

History is not just about recording what happened.

We need to learn from the pattern witnessed across history — A leads to B, such that E and F could happen — so that we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Not that history repeats itself in a straight line, but the clues are there, and we are stupid, arrogant fools if we choose to deny them. This is precisely why the GOP, the Evangelical right-wing, and the Putins of the world pervert and distort historical records — from re-writing the Bible to suit a self-serving ideological fiction, or to suppress any negative history whatsoever.

Making the patterns of history available for all to review puts those promoting false fears at a disadvantage.

This would force those who support falsehoods to operate within reality, to factually substantiate why their false fears and conspiracy narratives are justified.

It allows those of us seeking truth and justice to stand on a solid ground that supports the strength of calm, impartial, and logical reasoning.

Education is not the only means for a humane, universal common good and the health of our planet.

The practice of humaneness leads to a greater sense of justice.

The more equitable and inclusive that society becomes, the more we will experience justice in the form of respect and dignity for all people, creatures, and the planet. If we adopt the mindset and practice of cultivating the common good without discrimination, we will move towards a maturing of humanity.

We might call this practice a universal virtue.

It might sound simplistic to suggest our survival depends on love, but the truth is evident in neuroscience and in the most joyful moments of history.

"Whereas evolutionary theories generally suggest that negatively valenced emotions support short-term survival, positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, and love have been broadly theorized to increase physical, intellectual, and social capacities, connections, and resources that facilitate survival in the long run." (Source)

Peace among people is a form of contentment and love (in the form of acceptance, connection, and caring) that can be nurtured and fostered.

If humanity could experience these core emotional programs regularly, we would thrive. We would experience greater well-being because we could take care of ourselves and others.

Our well-being would allow us to cultivate healthy societies.

Our connections would include not just human beings, but a new relationship with our planet's creatures and the ecology.

Our common freedom and understanding would allow us to cultivate and mature our sense of universal virtue and justice for all life on this planet.