Perspective: A historical analogy

Warning: What follows is hardcore philosophy coming out of a melancholy brain. Read at your own risk.

I don’t know why this song always triggers my feelings about perspective. Maybe it’s the haunting harmonies. Maybe it’s the subject matter. Or maybe it’s the bone-deep weariness settling into me as I think about God’s game of dies which he plays with every man and woman on this planet. I dunno. It’s a depressing topic, I’m sure. But an important one.

In Hindu mythology, dies have played a central role in conflicts. One conflict, in particular. The Mahabharata, the parent poem of the Bhagvad Gita. The whole fight happened because of a rigged game of dies. History is written by the victors. So maybe the whole epic is an opinion. Maybe Hinduism would be different if the Kauravas had won. Maybe we would have idealised different values. Maybe the Bhagvad Gita would have been different. Who knows?

But why am I talking about these what-ifs? I think it’s just how I look at history. It’s a story. A story of how the world worked out to be. Maybe something like Aesop’s fables, from which one could glean a moral at the end. Maybe something like Lord of the Rings, which was all about the journey. Or maybe a bit of both, where the journey really led to the moral. Means and ends. Both are important.

There are people who think differently, though. Some think of history as the footsteps of giants. Of great men who made a mark on the world and left it changed irrevocably. Whose impact on this planet was so great that it led to a complete change in the path of what was to come. They focus on the deeds of these great men, their fights, their struggles, their triumphs and ultimately, their downfalls. They focus on how these great men became heroes, and how some of them actually did live long enough to see themselves turn into villains.

Then there are those who think of history as an eternal struggle between different philosophies. Different “isms”. Different ways of organising ourselves. Different views on human rights. Different views on right and wrong. Different codes of ethics. Such people think of progress in terms of how their codes of ethics evolved into its current form. And how far it may still have to go. Some of these people don’t even think of there being any progress or reversal. Rather, there’s just a bunch of different philosophies and one of them becomes dominant at a particular time in a particular place.

Then there’s people who like to think of history as the struggle of various interest groups. The struggle of a religion, the struggle of women’s rights and the struggle for the abolition of slavery, all of them are struggles of various interest groups. These people think that history is about groups of people acting towards a certain goal. It is these people who help their goal come one step closer to realisation.

And then there’s people who think of history as a power play between different ethnicities, countries and religions. For them it comprises of wars and treaties, of the formation of kingdoms and republics, of the times of peace and those of war and maybe other things which define how power struggles play out.

And what do we learn from all of this? Is any of this wrong? Are any of these views, these perspectives wrong? No. All of them simply lead to different conclusions using the same data. And none of these conclusions are wrong either. They’re just different. However, their combination leads to the whole truth. Yes, history is a story. However, it is a story shaped by great men who followed different philosophies intent on trying to reach a goal shared by many people. People developed different codes of ethics, religions and interests which led to wars and treaties between nations and various interest groups. There are various factors which changed the way in which all the people involved interacted with each other.

And that brings us to probably the most important point the world seems to keep forgetting from time to time. That this world is not just a sum of its philosophies and viewpoints. It’s an entity much greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe exponentially so.

Diamond

And that’s why perspective matters. You can try to stare into the individual faces of a diamond and appreciate the beauty they present to the world. But if you take a step back and look at the diamond in its entirety, you’ll find a beauty which outshines the sum of the beauties of each face.

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One thought on “Perspective: A historical analogy

  1. I agree to those who contend that there are right or wrong philosophies; each has its part on the historical spectrum. Likewise, there are no good or bad guys, heros or villains; people are larged the product of the times they were born.

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