The 'True' Beauty of History
the stories (lies) that make history history
I was inspired by this post by Derek Sivers “The Past is Not True”
Here’s a quote from the post
Aim a laser pointer at the moon, then move your hand the tiniest bit, and it’ll move a thousand miles at the other end. The tiniest misunderstanding long ago, amplified through time, leads to piles of misunderstandings in the present.
We think of the past like it’s a physical fact - like it’s real. But the past is what we call our memory and stories about it. Imperfect memories, and stories built on one interpretation of incomplete information. That’s “the past”.
You can change your history. The actual factual events are such a small part of it. Everything else is perspective, open for re-interpretation. The past is never done.
Derek talks about how you can change your own history and how you can reinterpret events to make them a positive thing in your life. This is a powerful idea that can help you navigate troubling events in your personal life. However, it can also be applied to history as a whole.
We often see history as a series of facts. The truth is that history is more like a wikipedia page. Sure most stories are true to a certain extent but there are editors involved in the retelling of the stories. There’s the famous saying “History is written by the victors”.
Obviously with such a famous saying there’s going to be contrarians to this argument. They claim that history is actually written by the documenters, those who write about historical events in a way that is easily transmissible (medium of work and language) rather than just the winners.
There are some famous examples of ‘losers’ rewriting history due to the power of documentation. Think Alexander the Great’s (funny how we know him as great) failed invasion of India. The brutal nature of the Mongol or Viking invasions. They were all stories written by the losers and we don't really have accounts from the winners perspective due to a variety of reasons.
Another such example is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was notorious for fabricating information during war decreasing the number of deaths on his side and exaggerating the numbers on the enemy side because he understood the importance of morale during a war. However this does end up coming back to bite him in the foot similar to the boy who cried wolf.
Napoleon's later victories in battles were heavily doubted by historians and the public due to his frequent lies. But at least Napoleon lived to survive all of his battles and became the greatest military general in all of human history possibly due to morale boosts originating from his lies. Surely one of the whitest lies ever told (other than whatever world view breaking lie people in power are hiding in the present that we will find out in the coming decades).
What this tells us is that history can be changed and is being constantly rewritten by people. History will not remember Bill Gates as a ruthless and greedy businessman who used aggressive tactics to maintain Microsoft's dominance in the software industry but as a technology pioneer who developed the computer we know and love today and as a prominent philanthropist who is helping solve climate change, improve global health, promoting education, addressing poverty and helped eradicate polio.
You can argue that this is not rewriting history but just a person changing their focus in life which just so happens to change their legacy and rewrite how they will be remembered in history. But it's also kind of rewriting history. Just a really costly rewriting ($50 Billion).
The flexible nature of history means that the past is always changing. It's just that people who are rich and powerful (influential) can change the narration of history. Should it be that way? It sounds really bad but I think that it is impossible to prevent the rich and powerful from changing history. While I believe the internet can democratise a lot of things, being rich and powerful helps a lot. I guess you can change history with technical prowess on the internet with fake news and misinformation that is bad (illegal) and temporary, real changes happen over a long period of time time with money and influence.
Take a simple example, your google search results. If you are a poor person convicted of a crime that is popular in the media, your google search results for your name will forever be that crime. If you are a rich person convicted of a crime, you can pay agencies money to help you remove those negative search results by either directly paying news websites to remove your story or outsmarting google's search ranking system by publishing articles about your philanthropy or work that your foundation does to save kittens stuck in tall burning trees. With enough posts and trickery, you can make your google results clean again and get rid of the stench associated with your name. This is just google.
Now translate this to articles. You can very easily get rates on major publications to write articles that talk positively about you. These are not small random blogs but famous well known media publications like Forbes. I am sure that other larger media companies have services for billionaire donors as well (cough Sam Bankman-Fried cough).
Repeat this at a massive scale and boom you have changed history.
I have already spoken enough about SBF on this blog but take the recent PR stunts of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos. She was the 19 year old Stanford genius prodigy who wore a black turtleneck and faked a deep voice to be a wannabe Steve Jobs. Her goal was to to "democratize healthcare" and tricked Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists and prominent politicians of her idea. At her peak, she was the youngest and wealthiest self-made women billionaire. Then Theranos fell apart and the fraud was exposed after defrauding investors and consumers of her blood testing product.
She used a PR move where a bunch of major newspapers started to write posts about her being a mother and posted pictures of her on Mother's day. Yeah I am sure photographers are paid money to follow a convicted criminal around 5 years after they were caught and were totally not paid to follow her at various locations and take pictures for her last ditch PR move to shorten her duration after committing financial fraud. She's trying to change her narrative to focus on incarcerated parents with children and their affected lives. Also her father was vice president at Enron which is funny. The grift never stops.
Also the internet democratises this through the ease of spreading information. The bad side is misinformation and falsehoods. But history is just agreed upon falsehoods that is constantly changing. Imagine how incorrect newspapers and media can/is today and translate it to decades, centuries or even millennias. Fun to think about.
That's the true beauty of history. You can change history too kids, just be rich and powerful. What an absolutely riveting and shocking revelation I have made.