Engaging With History


This post is by Collab Fund from Collab Fund


In 1963, LIFE Magazine asked author James Baldwin where he gets his inspiration. Baldwin responded:

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was reading books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. An artist is a sort of emotional historian.

There’s a related quote I love from writer Kelly Hayes who says, “Everything feels unprecedented when you haven’t engaged with history.”

It’s so true. History’s cast of characters changes but it’s the same movie over and over again.

To me, the point of paying attention to history is not the specific details of certain events, which are always random and never repeat; it’s the big-picture behaviors that reoccur in different eras, generations, and societies. People were dealing with greed and fear 100 years ago the same way they’re dealing with now and will be 100 years in the future. The more you see a behavior throughout history, the more you realize how ingrained it is in human behavior, which makes you more confident that it’ll be part of our future. It’s the only way to forecast with accuracy.

I thought about this after recently reading a paper by philosopher Hanno Sauer.

He criticizes philosophy’s obsession with ancient thinkers – Plato, Aristotle, etc. – because they lived in a world of relative ignorance.

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