“You’re probably familiar with this quote from philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“ In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.“
Or my favorite version of this particular saying:
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ―
So, speaking about what you remember about the past or have learned from history, how would you answer this question:”
Achievement? By the human race?
Right now, I’m having a lot of trouble crediting the human species with any significant event. I suppose it depends on what you think is significant. Would it be something that makes a life for people better? Or for a specific part of the human species better? Even if that “advancement” decimates or destroys other important aspects of the world in which we live? Like, for example, when we learned to plow and created the Sahara desert? And eventually killed ever last living mastodon? Was that an improvement?
Or how about when we broke the sod in the west and created the Dust Bowl? You know all those westerns where the sodbusters are the Good Guys and the ranchers are the Bad Guys? You know — the ranchers were right. We destroyed the prairies.
How about the invention of the government? After the Black Plague, the central government that was created produced giant grain silos and thus managed to feed the starving people after the plague wiped out the serfs — aka, farmers.
So the central government enabled people to rebuild after the worst (known) 100 years of human life or at least the worst time we still know about. But the deep plowing of the soil essentially was the beginning of what we are now experiencing: the ending of the world as we know it.
Will we take from that lesson that few have understood and somehow avoid total annihilation? Shall we yet come up with a world in which we can all live? Not just the human race, but all creatures?
Was the world better when we foraged for food and hunted our meat? I suspect it was. Were humankind’s invention of the railroad, automobile, and the airplane an improvement or was it the beginning of our end?
Do I live with any substantial hope that we will find a way out of this disaster we are in and rebuild a world in which we can live at peace as a part of nature and not its murderer?
I don’t know. Do you know?
Red kayak by the Blackstone
More of a summer river
Photo: Garry Armstrong
We aren’t going to live long enough to see the end result of this madness and I’m not sorry about that. I love this world with its birds and bunnies and squirrels and eagles. With its tigers and lions and the elephants that crush the crops — but they were here before me and they have the right to live, even when it makes our lives more complicated.
Doesn’t every living thing deserve the right to survive? And our grandchildren — do they deserve the right to survive too?
We came out of our caves as killers and so we have remained.
And here’s my answer:
The most significant thing we ever invented were weapons. Significant isn’t, after all, the same as “good.” Or positive.