Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Critical Thinking and History

In the introduction to the book that I am presently reading, “Moscow 1812; Napoleon’s Fatal March”, author Adam Zamoyski offers careful attention to the various spins numerous historians have given Napoleon’s failed epic campaign. He illustrates, for example, how, in Russia, the invasion was presented as an aristocratic battle before Stalin came to power, after which it was portrayed as the first Patriotic War (succeeded by the Great Patriotic War of course when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the Second World War). Likewise, he presents the various French versions and portrayals of Napoleon ranging from bastard to godly. Through it all, one can see the resonation of the old saying that “History belongs to the victors”.

In the same vein, a recent article in the local paper reported that in Australia, efforts are being made to move away from the political correct account of History in that nation. Captain Cook is one example of how History has been used to further various political agendas down under.

As a massive History fan and soon to be again Social Studies Teacher, I applaud both Zamoyski’s introduction and the move on behalf of John Howard and the Aussie government. So often we say things like “History will be the judge” when, in fact, we are the judges of History and our conclusions should be based in articulate critical thinking. Agendas are rampant, which is fair enough. Sadly, teaching people to examine these agendas critically is largely absent. I recall growing up and learning about the propaganda spread by Pravda in the Soviet Union as we lauded our “freedom of the press” here in the West. While it is true that Western writers could publish articles without fear of imprisonment, execution or being labelled “enemies of the state”, what came and continues to come into print is far from objective reporting. CNN, for example is nothing but a cheerleader for George W. and his Republican, right wing types, just as the CBC here in Canada is a left wing liberalist machine. The simple truth is that there is no truly objective news reporting agency out there. The scary part is that many people base their beliefs on the premise that what they see in the media is true. How often do you hear folks say that “if it’s in a book, then it must be true” or settle arguments simply because they look it up and find a version that fits in a way they so desire?

Take something like the Irish Republican Army if you want to do a litmus test on what I am saying. If you read a pro-Republican account of the IRA you will be given a romantic image of freedom fighters gallantly fighting off the horrible imperialism and occupation of England. From a pro-Unionist point of view you will see a terrorist organisation hell bent on having the Protestants of Ulster under the thumb of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. A completely different perspective may portray the IRA as an organised crime group or gang of thugs running weapons, drugs and protection.

Look at another aspect: that of media sensationalism. One bomb that kills 30 people makes the international news and strikes fear into nations as we use words like terrorists. People pledge millions into National Defense as a result. And, in spite of it all, the entire raucous can be the work of a handful of people. Just to add a little extra flavour to your pipe, consider that more people were killed by dogs then by international terrorists in the year 9/11 happened. That is not to pass judgement on anything surrounding this horrific tragedy, but a simple, objective statement of fact.

Billy Bragg has a great line in one of his tunes: “If you wake up in the morning to find your paper is Tory/ Just remember, there’s two sides to every story”.

Political Correctness, fuelled by a desire to promote compassion and equality, and White Supremacist rhetoric, fuelled by ignorance, fear and hate, are both destructive in their own particular ways. What we need to do, as a planet, is to focus on making things work, rather than blaming each other for how things worked in the past. Without reason, we fulfill statements like that made by Orwell : “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Slavery, for example, was wrong and it’s legacy continues to have a sociological impact. What needs to be addressed is not white liberal guilt, but in improving the lot of life by offering support and freedom of opportunity. The same can be said about the First Nations in my country. The Government throws millions at the Native people’s without any focus or direction. We allow media spin on Residential Schooling to cloud our judgement, again, getting caught up in the victim syndrome. Cultural hardship isn’t something we need to keep score over – whether the millions who starved in Ireland during the Famine were harder done by than the Ukrainians starved under Stalin. Really, aside from learning from our mistakes as a global community, we should not use our cultures to battle over who had the roughest childhood.

In closing: “teach your children well” as the old Hippie ditty hums. Question everything, be of pure heart and try to look at all the sides before taking a hard-line. Honestly, how many folks would be of the religion to which they belong if they weren’t born into them. Would the suicide bomber hate Muslims as much as he does Jews had they been born of a Judaic family? Unlikely.

Axis of Evil?



  • At 5:34 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    all anon as usual, rat-like, so the loss of rats to pied piper story, then loss of children to those who don't pay the piper, is a warning to children and rats, but not a real story. the woman at the well and the women at the tomb seem to have a story not interpreted by the men who heard, but did not want to understand, that the teacher included women as storytellers in the same way theay always had been, until the story tellers' fathers had some prestigious position to lose as priests. so the battle of the sexes became a belittling pack of lies, papal or otherwise, but clearly unwise, like burning bush, gee, to hide the story as told by the teacher from our children's eyes, that weapons of war do not do for peace what really, honestly listening would. so the moral of the rats and elected officials who tell stories is that we lose our children by telling lies and trying to hold power instead of hands over in iran/iraq. teach your children and hold on hold on hold on, as tom waits said... sorry about that obscurity ... rats out, roger.


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