Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Long Until We Can Correctly Evaluate History?

That's a misleading title. History ebbs and flows and probably never gets too far from comfortable lies. But I was wondering if we had to wait for the Boomers to die before we could admit what a terrible, terrible President JFK was.

"The Greatest Generation" is fading fast, and we're now starting to hear about what a disaster FDR was on domestic issues. Obviously, some people have known this all along, but the prevailing narrative is basically about how his wonderful social programs--you know, the ones that are dragging us down today--saved us from a fate worse than, uh, economic freedom.

FDR's greatness, of course, was spotting the Nazi menace long before the rest of the country gave a crap. And that probably outweighs the vast economic damage he has done over the years.

One of the reasons I have preferred history to current events is that there is less politicizing. Don't get me wrong: there's a metric ton of politics in history as well, but the distance makes it less a maelstrom of emotionalism.

One of the other reasons is that there's really nothing I can directly do about the disastrous course modern politics. (This is also true of history, but not relevant.) Except in my own little sphere, where I can make sure that history is known, that positions taken thoughtlessly don't go unchallenged because somebody (even if it's me) agrees, and I can reduce a little of the insanity that seems to permeate political thinking.

In that regard, I know I'm not alone: Synova and reader_iam (Simply Skimming, in the sidebar) are both of the same mindset, from what I can tell. What matters is good data and good logic, and a respect for the limitations of both.

So, that is encouraging. Playing politics focuses you on short term setbacks and trends, where playing in history allows you to take a broader view. This is not to denigrate those playing the current game, who actually do manage to make a (positive) difference. But if you're not someone who has a talent for skirmishing, just watching the game can be as depressing as being a Cubs fan.

Alan Kay famously said "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Parents are in a unique position to do so.

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