Chapter 1 – Where We Have Been

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

Only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.
Will and Ariel Durant

There is indeed much wishful thinking involved in the subject of history. We are enamored of our story because it bolsters the false-self identity, an identity we cling to in fear hoping it will protect us from an imagined catastrophe that simmers just below the surface of our unconscious behaviors. We need a story that relates our progress, a story that promises things will get better, a story to affirm that we are indeed “the creature that reasons.”

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

What is history? We usually think of history as a chronological record of past events and an analysis of those events. We analyze past events in the hope that we can come to understand how and why they occurred perhaps with the hope (as Santayana hinted) that the unpleasant events can be avoided in the future.

“Whatever the evidence may be, the popular notion of evolution, especially when applied by writers like Herbert Spencer to human society or civilization, connotes progress—the gradual yet steady march toward perfection. Apart from this application of the idea of evolution to man’s world, progress seems to be the central thesis in the modern philosophy of history.”

There are a few thorny problems, however, with this notion of learning from history. First, there is no time (more about that later). Secondly, in the context of paradigm B (P-B), human experience never changes. In a Groundhog Day-like nightmare, there is a conditioned sameness to false-self behavior that virtually guarantees we will repeat the same mistakes, driven by the same delusional identity. We are stuck in a never-changing time warp.

Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.
Herodotus—the “father” of history (5th century B.C.)

Herodotus seemed to have felt that much of history was a fiction and would have been dismayed to learn that it is all fiction. It is true that history, or the illusion called history, is written by the victors or the survivors to bolster the myth of their “exceptionalism.”  We humans search the story of our past hoping to find evidence that we are capable of creating a sustainable future.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope
and history rhyme.
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) Irish poet

We need much more than hope. Many of us would like to think that human history is a story of human progress. As much as we would like to think of our history in a positive light, we have learned in Simple Reality that in the context of P-B any notion that humans have made progress on this planet would be an illusion.

Few historians are awake enough to even catch a glimpse of what human history is revealing. Will and Ariel Durant demonstrated what such insights beneath the illusion of “academic history” would be. Were they alive and writing history today, for example, they might have explained the historical significance of the growing chasm in America between the 1% and the 99%. They knew this historical pattern was as old as humankind and they described it many times in their histories of ancient and modern civilizations. They sensed that these historical events were intrinsic to the story, identity and behavior of humankind, that is to say, built-in to the P-B story itself.

“Man is wicked not because he is born so but because he is rendered so. The great and powerful crush with impunity the indigent and unhappy. These, at the risk of their lives, seek to retaliate the evil they have received; they attack either openly or secretly a country that to them is a stepmother, who gives all to some of her children, and deprives the others of everything.”  If history is any indication the 1% will get their comeuppance. It’s only a matter of time.

Cause and effect (what goes around comes around) cannot be escaped. The fates (the three goddesses who govern human destiny in Greek and Roman myth) will have their voices heard. The arrogance of the 1% “shapers” of history is especially noxious. The fates will quickly disabuse them of their illusions of power or about being favored by the neutral and inexorable movement of the story of Creation. Sometimes the fates reveal their sense of humor as they play topsy-turvy with the best laid plans of mice and men.

Conquered Greece took captive her barbarous conqueror.
Horace

Impermanence is (as Buddha made abundantly clear) an overriding principle in not only the experience of humankind but also in the flow of history: birth and death, emergence and evolution, decline and fall. Speaking of decline and fall, the decline and fall of Rome began as all human self-destruction does with giving free reign to the false self’s darkest expressions including projecting onto the other. In this case the other is neighboring Greece.

Will Durant is our correspondent reporting on how invasion and conquest always works both ways. “The Greek conquest of Rome took the form of sending Greek religion and comedy to the Roman plebs; Greek morals, philosophy, and art to the upper classes. These Greek gifts conspired with wealth and empire in that sapping of Roman faith and character which was one part of Hellas’ long revenge upon her conquerors.”

“In Christian theology Greek metaphysics overcame the gods of Italy. Greek culture triumphed in the rise of Constantinople as first the rival and then the successor of Rome; and when Constantinople fell, Greek literature, philosophy, and art re-conquered Italy and Europe in the Renaissance. This is the central stream in the history of European civilization; all other currents are tributaries. ‘It was no little brook that flowed from Greece into our city,’ said Cicero, ‘but a mighty river of culture and learning.’ Henceforth the mental, artistic, and religious life of Rome was a part of the Hellenistic world.”

Voltaire, a philosopher capable of deep insights, knew his own weaknesses and therefore also those of his fellow creatures. “Man is almost everywhere a slave. It follows of necessity that he is base, selfish, dissimulating, without honor; in a word, that he has the vices of the state of which he is a member. Everywhere he is deceived, encouraged in ignorance, and prevented from using his reason; of course he must everywhere be stupid, irrational, and wicked; everywhere he sees vice and crime applauded and honored; he concludes that vice is good, and that virtue is only a useless sacrifice … If governments were enlightened, and seriously occupied themselves with the instruction and welfare of the people, and if laws were equitable … it would not be necessary to seek in another life for financial chimeras which always prove abortive against the infuriate passions and real wants of man.”

Horace Walpole (1717-1797), English statesman, understood, however imperfectly, the futility of attempting historical progress as long as the human false self was in control. “‘We are totally degenerated in every respect, which I suppose is the case of all failing states’ … All mankind seemed to Walpole a menagerie of ‘pigmy, short lived … comical animals.’”

“All in all, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire may be ranked as the supreme book of the eighteenth century.”   High praise for a mere historian but we must remember that historians stick together and the Durant’s had reason to respect this brilliant and insightful scholar, trapped as they all were within the worldview of P-B. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), nevertheless was able to intuit that optimism grounded in the history of humanity, given what he saw was the dominance of the false self, was unwarranted. “He saw no design in history; events are the outcome of unguided [unconscious] causes; they are the parallelogram of forces of different origin and compromise the result. In all this kaleidoscope of events human nature seems to remain unchanged. Cruelty, suffering, and injustice have always afflicted mankind, and always will, for they are written in the nature of man.”

As long as humanity identifies with the false self and behaves according to that identity, human progress will remain an oxymoron. The following essays will examine from a paradigm A (P-A) perspective the historical record of human failure and why progress will remain elusive without a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift involves a conscious choice—impossible for an unconscious person. Being unaware of P-A, the narrative most of us believe to be “real” (P-B) will overwhelm our best efforts to address what we perceive as obstacles to improving the human condition. The person acting on his intuition or in response to a profound insight can escape the clutches of history. He can then throw this book in the trash and dance.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality books:
Where Am I?  Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I?  Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here?  Behavior – The Third Great Question
Science & Philosophy: The Failure of Reason in the Human Community

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