Why History is Important to Our Lives
Understanding history as accurately as possible is important because a person’s orientation toward the present and the way that they go about life is very much based on their conception of the past. At the most basic level, this starts with one’s personal memories and those their family, their community, and those with whom they most closely identify. There is no way any of us could engage with the world without a model of the past because this is essential to our personal and group identity and also that of our family and our nation and our world. It is vital to for each of us to reference the past in all aspects of our lives because that is what tells us what works and what doesn’t work and the range of possibilities for future actions and also the ideals toward which we should strive.
Our conception of history has powerful psychological effects on us, for better or worse. Families, communities, and nations feel driven by the need to fulfill the original purpose of the founders of their culture and of their nation and they feel the need to stay true to the vision outlined by these forefathers and to the ways of life exemplified by the great people of the past. Some people think there is this eternal ancient wisdom, or perhaps that there are commandments and exemplars and perfect people from the past. These ideas and stories are very powerful in forming one’s identity, purpose, and connection to the world.
Stories and narratives are an important part of how people think and conceptualize reality. They need to feel like they, their family, their community, their nation, and their world are a part of a greater story. This includes the recent past and distant historical events of great achievement and tragedy, such as the oppression of ethnic groups, the horrendous acts committed by tyrants, and the supposed past greatness of one’s nation. This also includes stories that explain who came up with some invention or innovation originally, what was the origin of certain things that are now commonplace in our lives, and who was responsible for certain bad deeds in the past. Stories along these lines are necessary for all kinds of things in life because they give us needed information that connect memories to our understanding of the present in a way that guides our actions into the future. This also plays into accountability and justice and attempts to address past injustices and to prevent similar atrocities and inhumane events and suffering from recurring. If we have no conception of the past, we will never make progress as a society.
Whether these narratives are accurate or not, they drive people’s thinking processes and societal norms, values, and ideals. We can imagine that much of our history is true, but unfortunately some stories that one might read will be partially inaccurate or entirely fabricated. We cannot afford to ignore the importance of historical accuracy because history can be weaponized. A society based on false and highly skewed history will be as problematic as building a skyscraper based on bad and erroneous physics, math, and engineering. If we have a false conception of history, we can become tools of the powerful and charismatic who would like to deceive us for their gain and for their small inner circle. There are some people wish to perpetuate myths of the past in order to benefit themselves personally and without regard to the multitude of people who could be harmed by the furor and frenzy that they would incite as a result of them promoting such myths. Those who have a hard time getting along with people of other ethnic groups will sometimes try to invent myths of the prior greatness of their ethnic group and the evil acts committed by other ethnic groups. When charismatic demagogues come to power in times of economic and political crisis, these factors can coincide and result in bloodbaths and genocides.
The people’s conception of history has the potential to lead to political and governmental upheavals. For this reason, some people would like to rewrite historical records so as to remold our collective memories and to provide more favorable societal conditions for them. There is lots of money and power on the line and there are people who will relentlessly manipulate and spin false narratives to achieve power and to maintain it. If these stories that are so influential to our lives and to society are not investigated and refined through reliable and evidence-based processes, then they will inevitably be revised and rewritten so as to be more convenient to a certain powerful class that wishes to legitimize their authority. We cannot allow people’s hearts and minds to be taken and captured by people with ulterior motives because this would be a threat to global stability.