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writing for godot

Our history has devoted grandiose monuments and narratives to celebrate often sinister and sometimes shameful events of the past. (Francisco Louca)

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Saturday, 30 January 2021 23:27


Human rights: Food for a discredited thought  ‘HR and history’


Human Rights Reader 562


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about how bad history generates bad analyses when not interpreted for what really happened to the underdogs and the profound implications of this for human rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-As Stephen, in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, lamented, “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake up”.

-The inertia of history will always work against visionary discoveries. But then, what is history but a fable agreed upon? (Peter Hoeg)


Bad history generates bad analysis and bad politics. Bad history is also bad ethics


-He who forgets his history is condemned to let it repeat itself. (Ruiz de Santayana) So, the only way for history not to repeat itself is to reinterpret it so as to maintain it alive. (Eduardo Galeano)


1. It is not easy to turn our backs on the past history as learned. It is not something we can decide to do just-like-that; it is something we have to arm ourselves for. It never occurs to us that each of us may make some contribution to a new version of history that gives human rights (HR) its due. And that is something we, or somebody, may be missing to do. Yes, the way we have been made to understand our civilization has also been our prison --and that is what we have been doing for centuries. We have been clinging to the idea of the-defeated-not-counting (therein lying those whose HR were violated with impunity) and forgetting that each of us could have been one of them. We can be accused of choosing the wrong side of history. (adapted from V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River)


2. Take, for example, the history of science: It took science centuries, up until the 1600s to start to measure the parameters of nature. This, because the space, in the period up to then, was occupied in Europe by the dominating force of the Church. The Church did not want to hear anything about scientifically measuring nature.* It established a tight link with Aristotelian logic that was predominantly classificatory. But towards the seventeenth century, the Church started to decline and man started to look into the processes that controlled the natural world. Europe was shaken by an intellectual revolution of a magnitude humanity had never seen before. Pythagoras could count the planets, but Newton could tell how much they weighed. (Albino Gomez)

*: …And not only the Church. Any amateur historian knows that a common characteristic of political empires resides in the fact that they think their own existence is a divine benediction and that the same is to last forever. (Louis Casado)


People have entered history though not under conditions and interpretations of their own choosing (adapted from Marx)


3. We have no idea of the value posterity will place on the events (conventional) historians are chronicling even today.** (V.S. Naipaul, ibid) This ought to make us wonder: Is the project of the powerful to erase the memory of certain historical facts? Ponder that mass protests against oppression and HR violations more often lead to brutal repression than to liberation… (Robert Reich) This is why historical-hindsight-of-the-conventional-type has rarely proved helpful in anticipating the future. Be it as it may, history continues well beyond ourselves, and when history says goodbye it is actually saying see you later.     (E. Galeano)

**: Let me just ask you: Is journalism the rough draft of history? (Beware: …but not less biased…). Food for thought.


‘Lie! Lie! Lie!, because something always sticks’, says the aphorism


-We have indeed seen impunity throughout history. (David Miliband)


4. If it is about lies, the history of humanity is plagued of falsehoods and ambiguities. But the worst are the official lies, the historical chronicles always written by the victors. The ‘crimes of power’ thus remain in total impunity in conventional history. Perhaps we will never know the full truth of what the horror of so many reasons-of-state-that-impinge-on-HR were. (Juan Pablo Cardenas)


5. Conventional history books do not necessarily lie, but instead tell a special kind of truth. They are ‘formal’ in their accounts. They handle big people --generals, kings, nobles, businessmen, high officials-- with respect. They leave out a lot of important things --often essential things (like wholesale HR violations)-- that, at the time, local people would have known as clearly as daylight. Nevertheless, we all thought that our required school history lessons were to be accepted and repeated. At the time, we thought, history was something dead and gone, a subject we had to pass, so we did not mind. It was purportedly part of the world of our forefathers and we did not pay too much attention to it. School thus taught us ignorance so we practice ignorance preferring it over relying on our own culture …and true history. We are ignorant of history and that misleads us. We have forgotten there is truthful history. (V.S. Naipaul, ibid)


6. Many important pieces of history are lost forever. What I got, I got from Euro-centric history books. In them, we are left to wonder whether important parts of the past have been washed away (HR?). Actually, so much that happened in the past was washed away. I, as you, picked up the half knowledge of other men’s history books. Now, I think with sadness about all the things that went unrecorded. Even black men exposed to these books assume the lies of white men including their heroes and their statues***. Black people’s heritage, their customs, their culture, their way of life, their suffering (think slavery) and their dignity are, in a way, lost. (Did not white men make the truth for themselves?). But all of us, can only so much hide from the historical truth****. So, we have to break away. Another tide of history must come to right the wrongs of conventional history. We have to make good on history. (Naipaul, ibid)

***: A statue is an homage, a recognition, but also the result of a compromise behavior. Its validity is thus not universal. In every society, what is accomplished has benefits, but also leaves behind HR victims so that the personas on the pedestal represent one or the other sector --not both. (Romulo Pardo) [Think about statues toppled during Black Lives Matter…].

****: Time is supposed to be the discoverer of truth. …But, do we really know the true history of the Roman Empire…?


7. I am not here trying to define the ‘historical truth’, but rather establishing the fundamental role of genuine democracy and of HR in the evolution of history, i.e., correcting the catastrophic division made between leaders and those often ruthlessly governed. (Esteban Valenti)


Bottom line


8. The manipulation of history can only serve the dark interests that are the expression of the evil, the retrograde that represent the worst trait of the human condition. And, in modern times, this is indissolubly linked to the supposed success of capitalism as an extreme manifestation of the attempt to impose the truth of a minority over the truth of humanity, i.e., the truth of everybody. (Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein)


9. You are thus right to ask: Does it make any sense to adopt an ‘official’ version of history?  Is it reasonable to punish those that question the ‘official’ historical truth? The issue more than deserves being discussed. (Louis Casado)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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