Today’s quote comes from a brilliant new novel just out this week by the author of The Frankenstein Candidate. I won’t spoil the story for you, but this astute observation on studying history comes near the climax (and gives you just a taste of the novel’s quality):
“History isn’t an Arts subject. It’s an analytical one.
“History, said Aristotle, is less interesting than fiction, because fiction tells you what might be, what could be, while history tells us what was. Was he right? Maybe.
“But we can ask why. And asking why makes history interesting. Why did it happen that way and not any other way? What might have been if only one thing had been different?
“That paradigm changes history into one large experiment, as in physics. The history of the world is littered with airplane crashes, of an airborne society that suddenly loses perspective. It loses balance, because it has never been readied for the storm it encounters.
“But the crashes were always preventable, with the benefit of hindsight. Whatever the cause—mechanical, weather, electrical problems, terrorism—no air crash has ever been inevitable….
“You’re the aeronautical engineers appointed as the crash investigators. Clue by painstaking clue, you must understand every event, every little detail at a certain time in history, and from that infer a picture of humankind.
“What makes some men leaders? Some men tyrants? Some of us, men and women … some of us follow leaders, some follow tyrants, some are their own people.
“The epochal moments of a society’s history arise from a clash of values so intense that no politically correct dialogue can even begin to touch it, let alone resolve it…
“In the long narrative of human history, these are the turning points, the twists and turns of the story as it unfolds. Identify these epochal moments … remember, they are always caused by an intense value clash … study these pivotal moments, and you understand humanity itself.
“No society has ever not crashed. So it behooves us to understand, to comprehend fully, the bends in the time and space continuum of values. Western society has been airborne from the time of the Industrial Revolution, a time of more than two hundred years.
“Two hundred years is a long time. We’re still flying, but flying blind. Flying on auto pilot. The faults are already there. The new instruction manuals are telling the auto pilots to put the nose down. Just slightly. But the gauges don’t give the right readings—the gauges have been tampered with. It takes a long time for an aircraft at thirty-five thousand feet on a half-a-degree tilt to come down to the ground, but physics tells us it eventually will.
“Find the clues about how we lived and how we changed … by relentlessly asking why. That’s how to study history.” [Emphasis mine.]
~ from the brilliant new novel A Sharia London by Vinay Kolhatkar. Grab your copy now!