“Isn’t the past a part of the present? But, unfortunately, it’s also the future. We all attempt to avoid it, but life won’t allow us.” Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night.
I guess the playwright uses the word “unfortunately” in the above sentence because, as the title suggests, ” The past is the present” will impact the present and the future if the past has been so dreadful.
Past is crucial because it helps us understand why our societies are the way they are and what they value as people and society.
According to Professor Penelope J Corfield: “Why does it matter what occurred a long time ago?”
The answer is that History cannot be avoided. It looks into the past and how it affects the present and the future.
Everyone and everything is living History. Take a look at some prominent examples:
Languages are spoken in communities passed down from generation to generation. They live in communities with a wide range of traditions and practices and religious beliefs that emerged from nothing. Likewise, people make use of technology that they did not create.
As a result, recognizing the links between the past and the present is critical for a thorough comprehension of the human predicament.
That, in a nutshell, is why History is crucial. It is not just ‘useful,’ but also essential.”
Whenever any injustice happens in society, people relate it to the historical injustice events that occurred in the past. Some are just that terrible that we cannot imagine one could do this.
Whether it’s the genocide of Rwandan Massacre (1994), if you haven’t heard about this massacre, let me take you back to 1990, when Rwanda experienced civil war due to deep-seated ethnic strife and evil political schemes.
The unexpected death of Rwandan President Habyarimana sparked the Hutu majority’s rage towards the Tutsi minority.
As a result, extremist Hutu organizations slaughtered between 800,000 and 1 million people across the country in under 100 days,” ranking it one of the greatest genocides in History.
Or it is Sumer, or Sumeria, which is still regarded as the origin of slavery, which spread from Sumer to Greece and other regions of ancient Mesopotamia.
So even though it is difficult to estimate the year slavery originated accurately, historians can trace the origins of this terrible institution back around 11,000 years.
Slavery was not practiced in the Ancient East, notably in China and India. The primary cause for this might be they have learned from the historical events before their existence.
Or they may believe the fact that if the past nations were slaves and treated their people or other countries deadly, they are fortunate to live in the present.
In a nutshell, what are we supposed to do about historical atrocities such as slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonization? These atrocities have helped shape the world we live in.
Much has recently been made of historical injustices throughout the world. According to Berber Bevernage, this is “one of the most exceptional phenomena in contemporary world politics.” As a result, initiatives addressing “all types of historical sins” have occurred worldwide.
“From symbolic actions like memorialization programs, truth commissions, and public apologies to more serious political measures like reparation payments and historical restitution, to direct legal prosecution through tribunals and national or international courts.”
Recognizing that this movement has both supporters and opponents, Bevernage contends that there is a proper method and a lousy way to go about it.
Unfortunately, this propensity, which he refers to as “retrospective politics,” can have harmful consequences. He is primarily worried about what he refers to as “temporal Manichaeism,” or a robust historical divide between good and evil.
This portrays the past as a place of evil, implying that evil existed only in the past and that the present has developed far enough to be free of atrocities such as those found in the twentieth century.
An “Evil Past” inclination threatens to “legitimize the present” as the finest of all possible worlds. Yet, if the past has been so terrible, aren’t we lucky to be living in the present?
This type of thought, according to Bevernage, is anti-utopian, tainting both present- and future-oriented politics. Too much comfort with how horrible things were may “marginalize accusations of contemporary criminality and human rights abuses.”
It should be highlighted that Bevernage challenges the progressivist view of History, which believes that things necessarily become better through time.
“Ethical Manichaeism and anti-utopianism just aren’t essential pieces of all retrospective politics; rather, they are the result of an underlying philosophy of history that treats the relationship between past, present, and prospects in antinomic terms and precludes us from acknowledgment ‘transtemporal‘ injustices and responsibilities.”
The term “transtemporal” implies that the past, present, and future do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Bevernage cites the Argentine Madres (often grandmothers because the mothers were slain) who believe that the state kidnapping of children during the Dirty War of the late 1970s is not a thing of the past.
After all, a six-year-old kidnapped by the dictatorship in 1976 and delivered to regime sympathizers would be 51 now.
Another example is the South African Khulumni Support Organisation, which campaigns for victims and survivors of apartheid, which was legally abolished in 1991: the group declares “the past to be in the present.” The past created the present and is inextricably linked to it.
“We should search for varieties of retrospective politics that complement or enhance the emancipatory and utopian features in the present- and future-oriented politics—and vice versa: present- and future-oriented politics that do not ignore historical injustices.”
Bevernage’s theoretical argument ignores the factors opposing historical correction. After all, historians aren’t the only ones who could challenge the historical moment.
For obvious reasons, those guilty of past crimes often refuse accountability and gather under Longfellow’s “Let the dead Past bury its dead.”
The problem, of course, is that the bones keep appearing.
History serves as a link between the past and the present. We have no future until we have an account. Our present has worth because of the past. “History is a guide to navigation in difficult times,” said David C. McCullough.
History defines who we are and explains why we are the way we are.” I agree with McCullough that History provides us meaning. History enables us to research and comprehend the past to understand how and where we evolved.
As Pope John said, “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” We can acquire a sense of what has shaped our History and present and affected our future.
We can examine what earlier generations did and whether or not they were successful. We can then link that with the future and analyze where our future generations would go.
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