A Common Truth
July 17, 2006 § 4 Comments
There is unquestionably a “problem” with recorded history however the question is what can be done about it? At first glance it seems that nothing at all can be done about it. In fact this conclusion doesn’t only appear at first glance but at a second, third and so on ad infinitum. The problem lies not in the history, but the recorder. Because history is nothing more than a chronological record of events, however when these events are filtered through culture, perspective and language they consistently lose their factual integrity to bias and prejudice. This essay will discuss history as it relates to bias and prejudice but also highlight the root of prejudice in historical records and attempt to pose a solution to socio-political influenced historical records.The “problem” is prejudice and how prejudice effects the historical accounts of people. Jane Tompkins wrote an essay entitled, The Problem of History where she identifies similar ideas. Tompkins’ idea of histories quagmire is best illustrated when she writes,
“The problem is that if all accounts of events are determined through and through by the observer’s frame of reference, then one will never know, in any given case, what really happened” (Tompkins).
If Tompkins’s’ claim is true than this leaves humanity with a formidable problem with no solution apparent solution, or is there? The “problem” is prejudice plain and simple however the arrival of prejudice is far from simple. The circumstances ending in prejudice is a complicated superhighway of political and socio-economical agendas where the end result is a perspective formed by current socio-political trends. I think that Tompkins’s’ discovered these trends entangled in the roots of what is “American History” and the relationship between the Colonists and the Natives. She explains her doubts about the integrity of historical records when she writes:
“I discovered that the problem was more complicated than deciding whose version of events was correct. Some of the conflicting accounts were not simply contradictory, they were completely incommensurable, in that their assumptions about what counted as a valid approach to the subject, and what the subject itself was, diverged in fundamental ways” (Tompkins).
Therefore, Tompkins confirms my conclusion that the distortion does not lie in history’s chronology but the reasoning and intent of people and events. The “problem” of prejudice lies in intangibles, and it is the elements of Reason, mankind’s distinguishable quality which beckons for reform. Now if we could somehow get the entire world to share a similar moral high-ground this intellectual reform would be a quantifiable objective. But the reality is that a movement like this would only stir more controversy and opposition leading to prejudice; revolution and ultimately a socio-political influenced history. I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King when he spoke of morality as it relates to groups saying,
“Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals” (King).
The final solution for this “problem” at a socio-political level lies in legislature. If the lawmakers are immoral and unjust group will they produce and uphold laws of a moral high-ground? Yet isn’t it our moral responsibility to follow the law? King answers this question of man’s moral responsibility when he boldly claims,
“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws” (King).
However, with so many fragmented ideals and objectives in our society to maintain a common morality is impossible. Therefore morality is only loosely related to our laws in this society.
In conclusion, we can see that as Tompkins pointed out, the problem of history is prejudice. This prejudice influences the way literature and historical records are written which after while is all we have to reference besides a few stories passed down through the generations. As a result we are left with a story that only describes circumstances and events as they pertain to one based on culture and socio-political influences of the time. The situation is complex and virtually impossible to affect however I feel the solution is in legislature. Once legislature accurately reflects the diversity the country which it represents, then and only then will history be represented more accurately with little or no prejudice. In Virginia Wolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own she wrote,
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others” (Wolf).
And it seems to me that like literature, history and our lives have been also.