How To Know

History is replete with those times when we got it all catastrophically wrong. Including for sure those times when some deranged soul led a people into the insanity of war; but also those like The Spanish-American War, World War One, The Vietnam War, and The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars where the cues of change were missed or misread.

For many of these times, ‘none so blind as those who will not see’ was a good fit. The very thought of change makes some anxious. So indisposed, they do not want to see. Others, seeing change as a possible threat to their personal status, may be disposed to oppose or suppress anything that smacks of change. Truth be: Our very advancement has required, requires yet, both stability and change. Our well-being requires that some changes, e.g., climate change, overpopulation, pandemics, and wars be suppressed or avoided whenever possible.

Change can be hard to detect. Seeing change is analogous to being able see the first signs of a bending, thus the currently ubiquitous appropriation of the term ‘inflection point’. In the unformulaic world, its detection is one of the most difficult things we are asked to do. While change itself is easy enough to miss; in the real world, we actually need to be able to see around that bend.

Given that change is always but a bend from now; discerning what is going on in the existent now, our reference point for discerning change is almost as difficult as discerning change itself. For those times in the past when they did get it catastrophically wrong, “We didn’t know what was happening at the time (their existent now) was why we couldn’t see the change coming,” might be their best excuse. When it comes to now, history coupled with an awareness of current events provides knowledge we can use in our efforts to recognize, to understand, what is going on in the existent now. This recognizing and understanding what is going on at the existent now is all important.

With or without a grasp of the existent now; signs of change have been, can be, misread in error. To err is human. So, unfortunately, is to deliberately misread, or misinterpret. Either way, the consequences can be catastrophic. Deliberate misreading or misinterpreting of either now or change is criminal, never acceptable. Is unforgivable when the consequences are catastrophic.

At the time of an existent now; some in the media, some in academia, and some from the general public, may attempt to shine the light of truth on, and, or, many of the people may rise up in protest to, something they see as being a misreading or misinterpretation of an existent now or change in progress in hopes of forestalling a governmental action that will likely lead to catastrophe. This, all too often, to no avail. History does the forensics, the postmortem; has the final say as to what leadership got wrong, how they got it wrong. Sometimes, even proffers the why. Being not infallible and subject to bias, history may get it wrong again and again before getting it right. While history cannot undo, redo, or grant do-overs; history can and does provide knowledge that helps us recognize and understand what is going on at any existent now. Knowledge most helpful for detecting, recognizing change, and avoiding making the wrong decisions; for us giving it our best shot.

Fair to say that some confusion about what was going on in the then existent now led to the United States’ involvement in the Spanish-American War. That this lack of understanding of what was going on likely abetted some misreadings (deliberate and otherwise) of the changes that were in the winds of the times. The United States wanting to become a colonial power in 1898 was more than a little out of sync. So colonial power itself. Pulitzer and Hearst were then becoming anachronisms. Unfortunately, we see some of the same eagerness to affect policy from some in today’s media. The consequences then were an unnecessary war, a complete waste. Yet today, we see some from the totally unelected media eager to give it a go.

Something about monarchies that smacks of narcissism. They thought it was much about them in 1914. In a way, it was. World War One was much about the nearing of the end of monarchies. It was also much about the Industrial Age’s demand for raw materials and markets. And, it was also much about the nearing of the end of colonialism. What they were seeing from their vantage were the effects of change, not the causes. They would not see the causes. Results — Another unnecessary war. Another complete waste. They didn’t know what was going on, didn’t really want to; so, of course, they failed to detect the changes.

Given the knowledge availed us from our involvement in The Spanish-American War, our involvement in Vietnam was inexcusable. John Foster Dulles, clueless about what was going on in the early 1950s, was even less than clueless about what changes were in the wind. Was out of sync, out of touch with reality. Another self-induced complete waste because (for whatever reasons) our leaders got the then existent now wrong. Failed to pick up on the changes that had occurred in the world, were occurring; anticipate those to come.

And yet, Bush-Cheney lied us into invading Iraq and Afghanistan. History still shakes its head.

In the 1950s, John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen (CIA Director, 1953 to 1961), confirmed that even the experts can get it all wrong. Rather glean knowledge from history, they sought to impose history (Something almost certain to fail because of context. Something still very much a threat in these times.). The nation’s intelligence apparatus failed them, the nation. Was the media of the day of any help? A significant portion of today’s media are of little use to our leaders or anyone else because they themselves haven’t the foggiest about what is going on. Yet they opine.

No redoing, no undoing, no do-overs. This is why that it is so important to get it right the first time.

Poor the odds for this if we haven’t a good grasp of the present. The lack of this good grasp also makes it less likely we will be able to spot and correctly identify changes. History accords us knowledge that helps us interpret and understand what is happening in the present, knowledge that assists our decision making in re both the present and the future. Our leaders depend upon their own knowledge of history, and upon more current knowledge afforded them by the nation’s intelligence apparatus and the media. We the people depend upon the media and our leaders. The nation needs for both the intelligence apparatus and the media to perform at very high levels. And, a nation needs to have a good grasp of history.