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The Past Unfiltered

02 December 2012, 18:17

I always lose a bit of respect for someone when I hear them express a particular suggestion. It comes in several forms but in my opinion these forms all elude to one similar opinion. I will list some of them but I’m sure they are not limited to the following:

1)    Society is the worst it has ever been

2)    The morality of the world has descended down the toilet

3)    There is no respect anymore between people, what has happened to the days of the past when people had respect for each other and treated each other decently?

Well, I would like to stress that it is my confident opinion that most South Africans believe these points above, more or less as they are described.

However, it is almost as amusing as it is saddening that we as South Africans don’t understand how untrue the above statements are. We as a collective culture have first-hand knowledge of what the history of the world has been over the last few hundred years. History has played itself out and left a lingering reflection of itself in clear HD format. We just need to jog our memories and for the more distant history, pick up a book (non-fiction) or even just Google it.

We always assume that if something bad is happening it’s a new thing to the world. We assume that crime is new – it’s not, murder is new – it’s not, rape is new – it’s not, tender fraud is new – it’s not, I can go on for ever.

Some of you are thinking at this stage that it’s the rate off occurrence of the acts or the brutality of the acts or the brazenness of the acts that make the world a worse place – well how do you explain World War 1 then? Or for that matter: Colonialism, slavery, the Armenian genocide, the Mfecane, Apartheid, the Holocaust, World War 2, and the Napoleonic Wars? We can go for years listing all the bad things humans have done to each other.

Some of you might still be thinking that those are exceptions to the rule. But are they?

We have to remember that force was the only way that discipline or rules were upheld in the past. Force was also the only way that people got there way.

Society was nowhere near as educated, literate and connected as they are now. People did not understand society. The ruling classes did what they want and could get away with it. They also knew that they would always get away with it unless they stepped on the toe of some other more powerful ruling elite somewhere else. And this shaped the ruling classes’ collective thinking into something we can hardly imagine even our worst politicians even contemplating.

Ordinary people had no option but to just fit in, fight in the war when instructed to and suffer the hardships. People’s lives were many times harder, generally speaking, than they are now.

Food was not as plentiful and as secure as it is now. Wealth was much more difficult to achieve for the average person. Education was reserved for the fortunate by birth and no amount of hard work would remove you from your life situation.

Now let’s think about the amazing abundance of freedoms, opportunities and possibilities that we have now.

Note: I am not saying that these things are here due to the selfless struggle by a percentage of our population and the resulting government; I am saying that we have these things in spite of our government.

We are not called up for 2 years mandatory military service anymore. We don’t have bombings anymore; we are not suffering under the yoke of slavery or colonialism anymore.

Why are the Zulus not giving everyone else a hiding anymore? Why are the Boers not sharp-shooting the sun-burnt Souties anymore? I don’t see women and children behind barbed wire in white tents being guarded by some Yorkshire Fusiliers. There are no more Whites Only toilets or park benches anymore.

I don’t see young men boarding ships in the harbour waving good bye to loved ones not knowing even what country they are going to or who they must bayonet in the stomach just because they are asked to by the King?

We don’t have to have 10 children anymore because we need support in old age, we can save money and have a pension. We can own our own land and property; it’s not all the King’s anymore.

We can work hard and actually uplift ourselves from our situation we are born into. I am far above the financial grounding my parents gave me. I studied my but off and weaselled my way into industry and now I am reasonably well off – I’m going to by my first house in the New Year! I work into the night several days a week and many weekends, I can, I must, but most importantly: I have the opportunity to do it.

My parents didn’t. My Grandparents certainly didn’t. My Great Grandparents were practically peasants, farming the land and fighting the wars for the bosses, on different sides I should add.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still major problems in the world. There are wars, famines, killings, crimes, frauds and inequalities. But let’s really think about it. The vast majority of the world is currently far better off nowadays. We have the United Nations and big brothers like the USA, Britain and others to help keep the peace.

Granted they might have their own agendas and may have dirty hands on occasion but for all that its worth, I am glad the Yanks anchor a Carrier or two off the coasts of troublesome shores. It reminds the world that the days of unquestioned rule by the elite are over. Just remember that the most powerful man in the world at one stage was almost toppled by a scandal involving a women and a cigar!

Humans have a tendency to always think they are in a bad situation. No matter what the past has shown them. Perhaps this is a natural thing to inspire them to achieve better things or a better life. Perhaps it’s a necessary function of the evolutionary process. I can’t say for certain, I am an engineer, not an Evolutionary Biologist or a Psychologist or a Political Scientist, but there must be a good scientific reason for it.

Perhaps we are meant to filter our memory of the past, that way we won’t get sick to our stomach when we try to understand how we have treated ourselves as a collective group of organisms with a common history and destiny.
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