Must We Remember?

Bosch St Antony.jpg

Now this is just a thought, and I haven’t fully developed it or decided exactly where I stand. But, I think that the common sayings about the importance of history – “we must remember”, “we must never forget”, “people must know where they come from to know where they are going”, or as Marcus Garvey said, “a people without a knowledge of their past and culture is like a tree without roots” – is actually overstated, possibly even misguided, and ultimately destructive.

I have always had the suspicion that our traditions and cultures are only one or two generation’s old, even if they are links in an ongoing chain of traditions a thousand years old. History is more part of our collective imagination than it is an intrinsic reality. Thus, when we think we act or behave in a certain way, it is not because we belong to a culture that has been acting this way for centuries, but because we have been trained to do so by our present surroundings. But this is probably something for a different post.

What I am actually trying to ask is whether the need to “remember” history does not in fact simply renew old hatreds, bind us to the legacy of something that we in fact did not cause or establish, and thus limit our abilities to be unique and autonomous. Just as sons should not be forced to pay for the sins of their fathers, what is the real benefit in knowing history? To avoid the pitfalls of the past, or to force us to relive them generation after generation? We are born clean slates, so why shouldn’t we be allowed to live in a clean, new world. It seems to me that the baggage of history too often predetermines our fate. So, if I didn’t know where I came from, I would be truly free to decide where I wanted to go. Maybe I don’t want to remember the Alamo.



Filed under Digressions

2 responses to “Must We Remember?

  1. TheCommentKiller

    Generally when people say that ish to me, i agree to be nice, but yeah i do think some people xenophobicly obsess about their culture, history, genealogy, religion, etc.

    That is not to say that those things should be discarded or ignored, as I think it is important to learn about those things, but not in an elitist sense. And that is often that underlying motivation behind such comments.

    Also I think we have selective memories, throughout this ongoing immigration debate, no one mentions that everyone in the country landed has ancestors that either landed on Plymouth Rock or Plymouth “landed on them.” (as Malcolm said).

    The same goes for the Christian right and even the moderate religious folks- the Pilgrims alledgedly came to this country seeking religious freedom, but now many Christian groups want to impose their Christian value system on the whole of society… have they “forgotten history” and how slippery that slope is.

    Or how about all of the European countries that talk ish about the US being an imperialist country… it wasn’t too long ago that even Belgium refused to loosen its grip on their African colonies.

    Do remember what Run DMC said about history?

  2. I don’t believe we are born tabula rasa in most areas of behavior, but acculturation is definitely a part of the socialisation process of child rearing.

    The largest problem with hominids is that the only history they are interested in, are the bits and pieces that enable their apathy and narcissism.

    That we never learn history, for seeing the error of the hominid mind in its myriad dysfunctions and detachments from reality, is why we are doomed to forever repeat it.

    You make a valid point, but because we are born to create prejudice against any/anything “unlike” our personal vision and understanding, culture and ethnicity will remain, firmly entrenched.

    Is any country or people even remotely similar today, with a century before? Not likely.

    Are the habits of the country and people the same as a century before? Very likely.

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