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Thursday, 19 December 2019 23:00

Human rights: Food for many an inaccurate thought  ‘The biases of history’


Human Rights Reader 508

-Along human history, fictitious stories, over and over, succeeded over the truth. For hundreds of years, historians have known this. This is why they so often have had to choose between serving the truth or serving the status-quo. (Yuval Noah Harari)


1. According to still-few, selected historians, greed and fear have been and are the great engines of change in history. (Roberto Savio) Conversely, conventional historians cannot agree that greed and fear have been and are probably the most important elements of change.


2. Let us not forget that political ideas have come and gone in history --some chronicled at the whim of conventional historians. Ultimately, the ruling class imposed(s) its morality and put(s) it into practice in accord with its historical ideological class interests.* (Eduardo Galeano)

*: The following definition, found in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1949, will help clarify this assertion:  Ideology: a) Content of thinking of an individual or class; b) Intellectual pattern of any culture or movement; c) Integrated assertions, theories and aims constituting a politico-social program.


The XIXth century theorists’ perspective

3. Marx saw history as “a kaleidoscopic parading of notable personalities” (kings, princes, popes, presidents, heads of state, generals…) made famous by big events (battles, wars, innovations, discoveries…)”.** He ignored all this conventional chronicling and proposed a unifying thread that allowed to decipher all these superficialities of the history-we-got/get-to-read, i.e., proposing that history changed as a consequence of the way men and women fed, clothed and sheltered themselves thus giving continuity to the species. He synthesized all his thinking under the concepts of ‘historical materialism’ and of the ‘mode of production’. With this, Marx unleashed a theoretical revolution as profound in conceiving history and the social sciences as Copernicus had, almost simultaneously, done in astronomy and Darwin with his sensational revelations about evolution. What we learned from Marx is how to look at the social holocaust suffered by many peoples. [In modern history, for example by structural adjustment and austerity policies. (Atilio Boron)].

**: The notion that history is based on personalities is a common delusion among the bourgeois class.  A social-political process is not going to disappear because one of its popular leaders disappears; it may be delayed or prolonged, but in the long run, it cannot be stopped. (Salvador Allende) …Herein lies the hope for human rights (HR)!


4. In 1859, Friedrich Engels wrote, “History often proceeds by jumps and zig-zags”. To imagine history as a linear line that moves in a progressive direction is bewilderingly incorrect. It is romantic to believe either that history is conservatively circular --so that change is fundamentally impossible-- or that history is progressively linear --so that everything improves in a scientific manner; neither is plausible --certainly so for HR... (Vijay Prashad)


Spring forward


5. Sympathy with the victims of historical processes plus skepticism about the conventional historians’ depicting such processes are needed as a safeguard against being taken-in by the dominant historical mythology that, for too long, (has) ignored HR. Therefore, as part of their working tools to reinterpret history --as well as to write new history-- contemporary-historians-that-try-to-be-objective need to shed the feelings and attitudes derived from that mythology. (E. Galeano)


6. In very recent historical time, the general direction of history has veered towards capitalism of one kind or another. In the sliver of time between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Lehman Brothers, conventional historians have been predicting (or peddling?) the positive role of markets as embedded in ‘liberal’ democracies (so as to pre-ordain the future?). (Richard Reeves) If so, beware HR activists: this is where the struggle will take you…


Blacking out the record of the grimmest aspects of our own past and recent history will leave citizens the world over unable to understand the country in which they live (Karen J. Greenberg, Tom Dispatch)


7. Upon reviewing history, we can examine different periods and see the paradigm changes as they prescribed the acceptable concepts on what was(is) ethical or moral to chronicle-on. Slavery can serve as an example. For thousands of years, it was accepted and considered normal to have slaves and/or enslave the defeated after a war. Until historically very recently, it was legitimate for the European powers to hunt, commercialize and export human beings from Africa, duly regulated by laws and market prices, just because they were black, which allowed the birth of fortunes that continue to exist until today in countries like the UK and the US (and as regards colonialism, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland…) (Fernando Ayala)


8. Furthermore, take the territorial borders created by the Europeans. They are much more than geographic dividing lines; they are geopolitical lines; very often lines of exclusion looking the other way about HR violations. These literally became walls of separation between humanity and sub-humanity. Territorial borders set by a history of violence, of ‘divide to rule’ are the never healing wounds exposed in what ought to be a borderless world.*** (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

***: All situations lead to the same conclusion, namely that territorial borders are instrumental to the expression of the power of those that set them. The violation of territorial borders, and of HR, is most often the expression of an emerging power that is trying to impose itself.


“He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past” (Big Brother, in George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’).


9. Historically, we live in one of the galloping stages of capitalism. What will the historians of the future call this savage neoliberal, HR-violating era? Will there be historians doing this or will it be the economists that will define the past period? The new generations that study history at school feel that they are taught ‘prehistoric facts’ when history class does not mention the words trade-unions, social-class, exploitation, repression, welfare-state, workers-parties and others of the same tenor. God knows what would happen in these classes if somebody brought up the concepts of class struggle and of socially engaged art and culture. Our elders fought a hard and long struggle against the exploitation and misery imposed by conservative governments of the 19th and 20th century. Nothing of that to be found in history textbooks today. They even had short-lived successes only to then be massacred by the repressive action of the privileged social class (that often uses the ‘talents’ of the police and armed forces to defend their interests). Nothing of that to be found in history textbooks today. (Arturo A. Muñoz)


To swim towards or against the tide of true, HR-based history, that is the question


10. To recap: A fundamental shortcoming of conventional historians’ (his)storytelling is that they have mostly not really known how to tell fair sociological and political stories. The hallmark of the latter (his)storytelling is to encourage historians to put themselves in the place of any character, not just the main hero or heroine. The overly personal mode of (his)storytelling prevalent in conventional history leaves us readers deprived of a deeper comprehension of events and history. (adapted from Scientific American)


11. Reinterpreting history is important, because we have to look both at history and at the present in order to find intuitions (nor directives!) for the future.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-The new unconventional history, that so much bothers the Establishment, reminds us that, already long ago, it was a normal religious, political and social practice not to look at the face of those in authority that bore the power. S/he who dared to do it risked her/his life. One could not look in the eyes of the pharaoh, a representative of Amon-Ra on earth. Centuries later, European monarchs and Japanese emperors even added the requirement that subjects had to take leave of them walking backwards and looking to the ground. (A. A. Muñoz)

-History? What is it good for? …old and dead people…; lies from one side and the other… Must those who want to forget accept the lies of those who won the wars or the elections? History ignores the defeated …while a new set of lies are in the making to quickly justify what happened. (Ruben Martinez C.)

-My view of the historical role of the sexes is that women uphold the social order with an iron hand while men travel the world bent on boundless folly pushing history forward. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

-The dead do not have a space to tell about their private life. (Leonardo Padura) your social media marketing partner
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