Welcome to my world. The world of Daniel Allen Butler, author, historian, speaker. Sometime curmudgeon, sometime all-round nice guy. Often imitated but never duplicated. Educated and opinionated, conservative and Christian, I answer to no one by my own conscience and my God. If you’ve stuck around this long, then you’ll probably enjoy the observations and commentary that will be appearing here in the weeks and months to come. Make no mistake, I’m here for the long run.
Why? you may ask. Why are you here in the first place, and why do you plan to be here “for the long run”? Because I’m a historian, and history is the only thing in the adventure that we call life that matters. “OK, wait a minute,” I can already hear you saying, “I know you’ve got a reputation for arrogance, but isn’t that going a little far even for you? History is the only thing that matters? What about science? Art? Literature? Music? Engineering? Politics? What about…love?”
Well, what about them? Distilled down to their respective essence, every one of those pursuits or disciplines or dreams is nothing more than the product–and sum–of their histories. Every scientific advance, every piece of research, every new discovery, theory, hypothesis or breakthrough is possible only by relying on the body of scientific work that precedes it–in other words, on scientific history. Art is perceived as, understood as, art because of the vast body of “artwork” that humanity has accumulated and produced. The creation or production of “art” is a response to history: artistic creation is either the continuation of a school of work, a style, a technique–or else it is the reaction to the perception of an absence of art, the realization that up until the moment some piece of artwork is created, whatever it provides to humanity was lacking. in other words, a response to history. The same applies to literature and music. Think about it.
Any engineer who attempted to construct a building or machine, and did so without reference to the established principles of design and engineering that apply to his or her specific discipline does so at grave risk, if not of life and limb then at the very least of reputation. And what are those established principles but a history of successful engineering? The simple devices that we take for granted every day–the wheel, the hinge, the lever, the screw, a flight of steps, a drinking glass, shoes, these things and tens of thousands of seemingly mundane items just like them–are all the current expressions of centuries, sometimes millenia, of development and refinement. No one needs to invent the wheel–it’s been done! It’s history! Now the question is not how to invent it, but how to refine and use it, without the need to repeat all of the experiences of those countless generations who have used wheels in equally countless forms and ways
Politics? Well, politics is a perverse–or perhaps perverted–form of history. Although the attribution varies (I believe the observation originated with Churchill), the truth that “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to relive them” is inescapable to anyone but a credulous fool. Sadly, most politicians now and in the past have seemed to be wholeheartedly determined to ignore that fundamental truth and pretend that history has no relevance, or that there is nothing to be learned from it. More the fools they. But don’t get me started on politicians, at least not today, or this might just turn into a discussion on the merits of the various designs of lampposts….
Let me expand on what I said in the preceding paragraph–that the truth that “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to relive them” is inescapable to anyone but a credulous fool. What is a larger truth here is that anyone who claims to ignore the past, denies its relevance, asserts that they only live for the present, and that present is all that matters, is indeed a credulous fool. More to the point, their ignorance is dangerous, both to themselves and to those around them. Anyone who says “I have no use for the past” is telling you that they never learn from their mistakes, that they are so shallow and ignorant that they refuse to recognize how the experiences of others can be of benefit to them. And someone who cannot or will not learn from his or her mistakes is, quite frankly, insane, if the definition of insanity indeed be doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result. I urge you to avoid them like the plague–someday you’ll thank me for it.
Oh, and what about love? How can love and history have any kind of connection? Well, ask yourself this: whenever you’re looking toward a new relationship, aren’t you basing your hopes and expectations for that relationship on what you’ve experienced in relationships in the past? Don’t you tell yourself that this sort of person is someone you’re going to avoid this time around, because of what happened in the past? And really, doesn’t love begin when we come to be aware of its absence in our lives? Don’t we start to love the moment when we realize that it is something we need, something we have–something to be shared? It arises from experience one way or another, and “experience” is just another word for “history.”
You and I are the products of history, both our own and that of the societies and nations in which we live. Who we are, who we aspire to become, what we value and what we discard, our moral compasses, our dreams, our fears, our loves, are all the product of history on a level great or small. Only fools pretend otherwise–and only other fools listen to those pretenders. Don’t be fools–learn your history, before it comes back to teach you its lessons the hard way.
Remember, I’m Daniel Allen Butler, and that’s the way it is….
7 February 2013