History is bunk*

Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk in Liverpool recently where he postulated that the financial crisis was the result of, what he calls, expert over confidence. He calls it that where others would simply call it ‘greed’. The former sounds more interesting though and you could probably squeeze a book out of the idea.

Similarly, I could postulate that the financial crisis was the death roll of capitalism or was analogous to a population collapse in evolutionary terms. The fact is, post event, you can apply practically any fancy interpretation you want to that event. It’s a game for intellectuals who have nothing better to do. If they could come up with an accurate divination prior to an event, then I would be impressed (although they would have to have a hit rate that was significantly above that of chance) but they can’t because “nobody knows anything” (the most profound piece of writing William Goldman ever came up with).

One of the things I did learn from my school history teacher was this; it doesn’t matter what actually happened, it’s what people believe happened that is important. The other thing he said was, “History is written by the victors”. So if you’ve won a war – however that came about – and you write about your victory, what sort of language would you employ?

“It was dumb luck that I marched my men in the right direction.”

Or would you try and make yourself look a lot  cleverer? Alexander the Great probably started out as Alexander the OK but progressively promoted himself with each new ‘victory’ – Alexander the Impressive, Alexander the Good etc. Of course, in some parts of the world, untouched by his influence, he is known as Alexander the Twat.

If you follow this argument through, it makes all history suspect. At the very worst it is lies and at the very best it is biased. I maintain my position as a cynical empiricist.

*History tells us Henry Ford said this.

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