Is History Harmful?

I love history, it’s fun, it’s interesting, it has a lot of "answers" to a lot of questions. You can pick any today’s problem, find something similar in history and propose solution or explanation or even predict the future. History is a powerful tool. But it is also a dangerous tool (especially in the hands of people that try to use it for manipulation).

But there are at least several problems with it.

History gives context (often harmful one) to each nation. When you meet a new person of another nationality sometimes by default, you might assign some features from the past (decades and centuries back) to that person. This context depends on your country of origin and the way you personally were taught history.

History plays a particularly bad joke with countries that have the history full of "glory." Let take e.x. Europe. It had a lot of empires/kingdoms in the last 2-3 thousand years. Ancient Greece and Rome, Holy Roman Empire, Austro-Hungarian empire, Rzeczpospolita, the Russian empire, Ottoman empire, British empire, Napoleon empire, different Slavic kingdoms (Kingdom of Bohemia, Serbian empire, Kievan Rus) and so on. This is an incomplete list of "big" countries with overlapping borders across different centuries.

Even today when you meet an average European person they might tell you that their country was once big, and maybe the part of your home country was under their rule 1000 years ago or so. There is a significant chance that modern European nations were one country a few centuries ago or had several wars between them. Does it make an impact on some people today? Unfortunately yes. After traveling a lot in the past 2 years and talking to people of different nationalities, I can say that sometimes it’s still a problem.

Can we pause for a second and think why all these borders, kingdoms that disappeared centuries ago still meter for the average person? Maybe it is because everyone studies history in school.

I do have a feeling that countries that either don’t have glory moments in their history or at least don’t put a lot of stress on it during history program in school have much more liberal citizens. I remember meeting a person from Finland. He was studying political science, and he told me that Finnish people have very low national self-esteem because they don’t have glory history. What is interesting that for me on average Finnish people are more intelligent, smart, pleasant to talk to than average person from "big" country. At the end of the day Finland has:

  • one of the best education systems in the world

  • great quality of life

  • technology/Internet penetration is extraordinary

Finnish people have much more reasons to be proud of themselves because of their achievements in the last generations than people who are proud of achievements decades and centuries ago.

Those are the questions that pop up periodically in my mind:

  • Why do people still so obsessed with countries, sizes, borders, power?

  • Why do people celebrate war heroes and not great scientists?

  • Why do people celebrate people from the past but not people who are working on improving our lives now? Don’t you think that Elon Musk is doing more positive things to humanity than some crazy dictator from the huge country in Eurasia?

  • Why do people divide humankind between "us" and "them"? What makes "us" good and "them" bad?

  • Why do people admire "strong" and "firm" leaders but not people with the intellect, with the vision for the future of the humanity?

  • Why don’t we celebrate intellectual victories and scientific breakthroughs but we celebrate military "victories days"?

  • Why people who are responsible for so many deaths are more famous and respected in history than people who saved millions of lives?

  • Can it be because of history and the way it was/is taught in our schools? In my opinion, when we study history accents are made on the wrong details. We shouldn’t admire war heroes, we should learn and realize why the war happened in the first place, what mistakes were made. We can’t live in the past, we need to live in the today and think about the future. World today is very different from what it was even century ago, so many things, ideas, idols, ideals from the past are obsolete now.

Can we imagine what will happen if we just "forget" all the history? Wars between the nations, slavery, genocides - all of that. How we will treat every new person we meet? Will his nationality, origin, skin color matter to us?

Does the history protect us from repeating mistakes of the past or does it influence our attitude to each other? History is important, but quite often it is used for propaganda and forming prejudices.