What a fascinating (and sorely needed) study! It has something for everyone: adventure, advice, amusement, answers, awe, drama, escape, fear, knowledge, warnings, wisdom, wonder, just to name a few.
With a promise that we may partially understand the present, as well as what, where, why, who, and how we are, History takes us back as far as we care to go.
As Astrophysics is part of History, we could start with the Big Bang some 13.2 billion years ago, and watch the unfolding of what could be just the present cycle.
As Chemistry is also part of History we could start earlier with the mother we may never know - that sun in whose nuclear furnace elements that make up our world and ourselves were forged. We can share the exhilaration of escape and fantastic velocities as our mother sun became a giant super nova and spewed us out to form another sun and several planets, one of which became the home we love, yet abuse.
As Biology is part of History we can marvel at the beginnings of life on this planet some 3.5 billion years ago. The proliferation and diversity of life that seemingly-simple cells created makes us ponder. Was this all trial and error, or is there an intelligence in cells that prompts them to adapt to the environment? The realization dawns that, if we are here now, some essence of our being must have survived for at least 3.5 billion years. Each and every one of our ancestors had to survive in a world in which the vast majority of creatures born into it do not survive long enough to reproduce. And, in that last instance, we beat millions of other sperm to that one egg! What winners we are! What survivors! Having come this far, we cannot drop the ball now.
Because Anthropology is part of history we can follow our evolution, and how we became divided into thousands of different cultures, yet we remain one species. To understand how we achieved this remarkable feat we must discover just how mobile and lustful we have been. Endless migrations, endless wars, and sexual habits that continue to be quite unfair to the female of the species need to be assessed.
Because Religion is part of History we can study its evolution among humans from the Neanderthals, 150,000 years ago, with their invention of Animism and the belief that we are composed of two distinct parts: mortal body and immortal soul, and that everything has a spirit that demands respect. All other religions can trace their roots back to Animism which, of course, still survives with many tribes and, if we admit it, within ourselves.
We hear, from those who are loathe to expend the time and reflection necessary to learn from History, the lame excuse: Today's problems are so unique that we would be misled by studying a dead past." Well, how dead is the past?
Artur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) wrote, However much the plays and the masks on the world’s stage may change, it is always the same actors who appear. We sit together and talk and grow excited, and our eyes glitter and our voices grow shriller: just so did others sit and talk a thousand years ago: it was the same thing, and it was the same people: and so it will be a thousand years hence. The contrivance which prevents us from perceiving this is Time.”
Let us examine a few areas for our introduction. These, and other areas, have been, and will be,expanded in other blogs.
ABUSE OF RESOURCES: So many examples of this will limit our introduction to just one: Mohenjo-daro and Harappa were two of the chief cities of the Indus Valley, Iraq, civilization (2500-1500 BC). They were well planned with wide streets, sewers, flush toilets and indoor plumbing - and they enjoyed 200 weapons-and-war-free years. As commerce and affluence increased they had to go further and further afield to get the trees to make the charcoal to fire their smelters. Eventually workmanship declined, lethargy grew, and the society, weakened from within, became the victim of ruthless, and more primitive, invaders.
AFFLUENCE AND THE MILITARY: Today's affluent youth disdain the rough life demanded by any efficient military service, and prefer to pay taxes to have less affluent people do the job for them. Nothing new here. The Romans hired Germans and Huns; the Britons hired Saxons; and Asia Minor rulers hired Turks from Persia. In each case the mercenaries eventually recognized the weakness in their employers, seized power, and moved in their own people. Today, many in western states argue that it would be cheaper to pay an annual fee to the United States and let it support the military necessary to maintain world peace, just as the Royal Navy swept the seas of pirates and established the long, mostly beneficial, reign of Pax Britannica. But the Royal Navy did this at the expense of British taxpayers who maintained parliamentary control. Athens was a great and early democracy. It was a friendly, proud, and open society, quick to defend its rights, but not prone to attack others. In 477 B.C. about 160 nearby city states, to save the cost of independent forces, formed the Delian League in which each state would supply ships, arms, men, and/or money for a "common" fleet and army to be controlled by Athens. Much later, the British lord and historian, John Acton (1834-1902) warned: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was so even with Athens. It gradually began to use its overwhelming force to curtail, then to destroy, all opposition and Athenian despotism became so harsh and hated that Sparta was helped by former Athenian allies to destroy Athenian power in 404 B.C. Today, is the US in danger of doing the same? There are some 7.5 billion humans now living on earth Since recorded time we have killed in wars and skirmishes an equal number with immense associated destruction and suffering. Thankfully, today many advanced countries have cut back on military expenditures but the bill still comes to $1.7 trillion annually of which the US spends 37%, more than the next 8 nations combined. It is spending history’s largest amount chasing mainly phantom threats This can lead only to aggression and dominance in a terrifying nuclear age. Are not many of the threats we face today better dealt with by a no-veto UN better financed, organized, and staffed?
CANCER: Slowly and painfully modern science has learned that smoke causes cancer. Back in 1273 Edward I in England banned the cooking of meat over open charcoal as the smoke caused illness and death. He disdained the habit of smoking. As illness and death was not immediate, when Edward died, the prohibition died to return 700 years later.
CRIME: Why do some species of birds steal from each other? Why do wolves respect the property of other wolves? Why did friendly Polynesians see no crime in stealing from Europeans? Why could the British trust fierce Gurkhas to guard British property? Why does the richest nation, the United States, have the highest crime rate? Annually, millions of crimes cost billions of dollars, not to mention lives. Why did Britain, where crime had been so prevalent that pickpockets plied their trade at the public hangings of other pickpockets, become a model of civil tranquility? We could learn from Jeremy Bentham who, in the 1820s, streamlined British laws, making them easy to understand. Trials became fair, swift, and short. Standard punishments, commensurate with the crimes, were meted out. Then Sir Robert Peel formed his "bobbies" the first civil police force. They were trained to be friends of, and helpful to, the law-abiding.
City living and transference of loyalties from families, clans, and farms to the state has increased crime. Too little or too much affluence also increased crime. Off the eastern tip of Papua, Dobuans existed on poor, rocky outcroppings and led a miserable life of hate and theft while nearby Trobrians, who enjoyed low-lying and fertile lands, led a happy and crime-free life. During the Great Depression, when many were starving, newspaper vending machines had open containers for customers to leave their two cents that each edition cost. This money was seldom stolen. In the 1980s millionaire stock manipulators defied the law to amass more millions. Since World War II, millions of refugees, high unemployment, increasing gaps between the rich and poor, and the breakdown of the family have all led to an increase in crime, even in Britain where some police now carry guns.
INFLATION: Nothing new here either. The current decline of the purchasing power of our paper and metal currency is a tale that goes back at least as far as 900BC in China with copper and 700BC when King Pheidon of Argus minted silver coins and King Croesus of Lydia (560-546BC) of Lydia minted electrum (gold-silver mix) coins. This convenient medium of exchange then spread to Greece, Persia, and India. The early and continued debasement of coinage by replacing gold and silver with cheap metals led to inflation. Our silver dollars suffered the same fate. Paper currencies started in the Tang Dynasty, China, 618-907 with Europe following in the 1600s. Collapses, with all the suffering that entails, ensued in the Holy Roman Empire 300s AD, Italy 1470, Spain 1600s, Bermuda 1616, Netherlands 1686, South Seas Bubble 1719, French Louisiana 1716, Confederate States 1860, Germany 1919 - and many others. Current dangers are debt-to-GDP ratios: Japan 230%, Greece 177, Lebanon 134, Italy 132, Jamaica 132, Portugal 130, Ireland 110, USA 102, France 96, UK 89, Canada 87, Germany 75, Brazil 59, Poland 48, China 41, Russia 18.
HISTORY, we can no longer afford to ignore you. Your guidance is essential.