HISTORY REPEATED

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A few thoughts on ironic repeated incidents from history, from thousands of years ago up to the present.

HISTORY REPEATED

 

What differentiate our world in the year 2020 from the world of centuries and millennia in the past? Mainly technology, but human behaviour didn’t change. The more we change our world the more it stays the same. One would think that with our evolution from cavemen to where we are today, our education, our humanity and our intelligence would grow accordingly. Are we more intelligent than the earth’s inhabitants from centuries ago? Are we more civilized? That is debateable. Great conquerors changed the balance of power over the globe many times.

One specific character from history represents the typical paradigm of what happens when one ruler gains too much power. Just after the start of the Christian Calendar there was this Roman Emperor by the name of Caligula. He took the throne at the age of 24, and he was one of the cruellest and most brilliant rulers Rome ever had. He made a few clever technological inventions all of which had one purpose; to support his delusions of grandeur. One example were statues that were fitted on a base that rotated. At the time Rome was a world power mainly because of one technology only they had, Roman concrete, made from a base material called potsalana. They used this to erect impressive buildings in their colonies in Northern Africa and all over Europe. Caligula had a number of hobbies and all of them were bad. These included expanding the Roman Empire, murdering his political opponents, the bloody games in the Colosseum, surrounding himself with beautiful women and bankrupting the state. He ignored that lesson from history; ‘If you live by the sword you die by the sword’, and at the age of 29 he was murdered by a family member.

Genghis Khan from the 12th century was one of the most famous warlords and he ruled over most of Asia. His kingdom stretched from the area west of Japan into Eastern Europe. This was no ordinary man. On his tours of war he killed 40 million people. This Emperor cared about his people and he shared, but he coveted  more land and power.  On top of his impressive achievements he also had five wives and between 500 and 1000 by-wives, depending on the source. He had so many children, it is estimated that over 30 million people today are his descendants. Approximately 4 out of a thousand of all the persons in the world today carry his genes. In a way he made the world a better place by introducing paper money, gun powder and the technology of the compass. Other conquerors from history were Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, the Vikings and more recently the powers of Europe when they colonized the world. All of these warlords and empires shared one behavioural trait; to expand their power and territory no matter what the cost. One of the most classical examples of a repeat out of history was when Hitler tried to invade Russia in 1941. He attacked Moscow with a massive army, with large numbers of fatalities on both sides. Eventually the Germans had to retreat as they ran out of supplies and their clothing which did not prepare them for the cold conditions. Napoleon attempted an invasion into Russia in 1812. The Russians refused to engage and retreated into the interior, destroying supplies as they moved. The French troops fell stuck in the snow, their supply chains became dysfunctional and many troops froze to death. Towards the end of these invasions all the Russians had to do was to sit back and watch how the enemy tried to dig themselves out of the snow. Two of the most brilliant military strategists from history failed for the same reason, their invasions ground to a halt in the middle of the Russian winter.

So what did Genghis Khan, over a 1000 years later do different from Caligula? Except for having a lot more descendants and being more technology orientated, very little. From the time of the Old Testament and more recently over the past few centuries we got some very sound advice from great minds, scientists, philosophers and business tycoons. From the Old Testaments it is: ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ Karl Jung, that famous psychoanalyst said: ‘To think is hard, that’s why most people judge’. If you have any doubts about this just pay more attention to your conversations. And the greatest truth came from Henry Ford over a hundred years ago: ‘The world’s problems are created by laziness and idleness.’ The philosopher George Santanya said: ‘Those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.’ How is it that mankind just never learn from history? Money and power change people. They can come from humble, impoverished backgrounds, but once they have tasted fame and fortune they very fast forget their origins. One famous Hollywood actor had this explanation when he was confronted with his abusive and arrogant attitude: ‘When I was poor nobody told me what happens when you get rich and famous’. True to human nature very few individuals have the emotional integrity to remain humble once they taste riches and power.

What were the events all over the world in recent history when previously colonized countries gained independence? The usual pattern is great celebrations just after freedom fighters liberated a country from the shackles of colonialism, or the shackles of tyranny.  The new rulers indulge in the luxuries which arrive with control of the economy and all goes well for a decade or so. Then it starts to dawn on the citizens that their liberators live a life off ultra-luxury and they are getting poorer. Then come the first fraudulent elections, political murders, poverty and the disintegration of the economy. And this happens over and over.

So what has changed from the times of Genghis Khan and Caligula? Not much. Two recent world wars that claimed the lives of a 100 million people has brought home the fact again that in a war there are no winners. It leaves countries in ruin and unimaginable misery and hardships in its wake. Decades after the end of those wars citizens still pick up the pieces. Now, after a period of reasonable stability from the end of WW11 up to 2020, there are again delusional, misguided leaders who do not quite grasp the role that they are supposed to play. Their sober judgement is in general contaminated with visions of entitlement and delusions of grandeur, when their job is to manage and regulate the country’s affairs and to keep citizens informed.  From the ancient models of government like absolute monarchies and oligarchies we have moved on to more modern systems where most countries today are ruled under constitutional democracies. This is usually recognized as the best model of government from a number of bad options. It has its benefits but in many cases it becomes the government of the ethnic majority and the minority groups suffer. Again, it happens over and over. When these leaders start to say things like ‘Creating a new world order on the basis of equality’, that bad moon is on the rise.  Stalin and Mao ze Dong used words similar to those before they killed millions of their countrymen and ruined their own economies. Their job is not to create new world orders, it is to protect the country’s borders and serve the citizens.

Are we more intelligent than our ancestors from centuries and millennia ago? Not likely. You will hear remarks from young people that the older generations are confused and they don’t really understand how things work in the modern world. To believe that you are ahead of the times and that those who have gone before are stupid is off course the epitome of stupidity. There is nothing new under the sun. You can make this astute technological breakthrough or this brilliant invention, and then you are actually just copying old technology. One example of this is the discovery of lift made by the Wright brothers.  Planes manage to get airborne because of the air flow over the wings creating lift. This only works if the wing is designed with a specific profile where one side creates a high pressure and the other side a low pressure. This invention was made 4000 years ago when Arabs sailed the Indian Ocean with their dhows. That sail created a low pressure area on one side of the sail and a high pressure area on the other. This is what gives them the ability to sail against the wind and also the same principle of the lift on an aircraft wing. Nowadays electric cars are all the rage, when it’s actually very old technology. In 1912 half the cars in New York were electric. Unfortunately this happened at the same time when the Model Ts came into mass production at a quarter of the price. The electric models disappeared of the scene because their batteries were too expensive, they had a short range and electricity supply was erratic and unreliable. Other impressive technology from long ago were the Roman aqueducts. The Romans built thousands of miles of these aqueducts with such precision that they had over very long distances only a .01% fall. That equates to a fall of 10mm over a distance of 100 meters. Because they knew what they were doing it seemed that they made water move uphill. We still don’t know how they did it. All this was accomplished without the surveying and engineering tools we today take for granted. That engineering was of such integrity that they are still standing now, more than 2000 years later.

Few of us have the ability to master complicated mathematics. Those who do are few and far apart. Where does mathematics come from? Centuries ago there were a few clever guys like Aristotle and Archimedes and a few others who made the most basic breakthroughs on trigonometry and volume displacement. Then came one of the most brilliant minds that ever lived, Isaac Newton. This genius designed Mathematics from the foundation phase up to what is now generally known as N6. Before him things like x² and logarithms didn’t exist.  At the time those complicated mathematics had little value simply because very few people in the world understood it. He published his work, Calculus in 1693, more than 300 years ago. For the next 200 years it had no or little practical application. Today this work forms the basis of the mathematics used in construction and engineering. He was more or less two centuries ahead of his time.

Not really. That was what I believed until I checked up on the origin of mathematics. As Mr. Santanya suggested: it's a good idea to learn your history. The roots of algebra, geometry and trigonometry date back centuries before the birth of Christ, exercised by mathematicians from North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and what is known today as Iraq and Iran. There is a worldwide perception that mathematics is the work of white Europeans. It's not. What Europeans can be credited for is that they converted and modified existing mathematics for practical application, after they imported it from North Africa and the East. Dating back to 600BC The Greecs and Romans were the first Europeans to do so, when they designed and built impressive multi-storey buildings which at the time had provision for ventilation and flushing toilets. They could not had done this without a proper working knowledge of mathematics. There is also the perception that our ancestors from the Middle Ages and beyond were uncivilized and uneducated. Also not true. Not everywhere and not all the time. To put this in perspective: when Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape in 1652, the Taj Mahal in India, a masterpiece in construction excellence even by today's standards was already completed.

What is ironic is that today we can only stand in awe of engineering feats accomplished thousands of years ago. Today we know how everything works. If you don’t know you can google it. How did the ancient Egyptians and Mexicans lifted stones with a weight of up to 200 tons to build those pyramids, some of them as far back as 15 000 years ago? In the 1970’s scientists decided to copy the Great pyramid of Giza on a 1/3 scale and use the same techniques and tools which they believed the Egyptians used thousands of years ago. They could not complete the first step. They actually managed to produce one of these massive stones a few years later using modern tools and then they couldn’t move it.  It got stuck in the sand. It was the desert equivalent of dead in the water. The bottom line here is that even with our superior knowledge and technology of today we cannot copy the work that our ancestors have done. To build sky scrapers is one thing, to lift and transport a stone with a weight of 200 tons in a desert is something else. Ironically we want to repeat and copy their engineering techniques and up to now we were not successful.

Human history and human behaviour are, hypothetically speaking, very much like the matter that the earth is made of.  All matter gets recycled. Human behaviour is just being recycled, over and over. The new cold wars that are now being fought are just fought on the new platforms of world trade, stock exchanges and with crimes committed in the corporate world. It is the war driven by politics, and just like thousands of years ago, money and power rule. The strongest and the richest rule, for a while, then a new contender takes the throne.There are accusations that the latest virus outbreak is an act of chemical warfare with world domination as the endgame. It seems that China is challenging the US as the world’s new super power. Just like so many superpowers before expanding it’s territory, China is setting its sights on Taiwan. Between them lies the South China Sea, a very desirable stretch of ocean. 28% of the world’s sea trade move through these waters and under the ocean floor lay billions of cubic meters of gas and billions of tons of oil. It has been under dispute for a long time. China says its theirs and Taiwan says its theirs. In the past couple of years this was one of the most aggressively disputed locations in the world, to the point where both China and the US  have a military build up with warships patrolling this area. Somewhere in the future this will probably be one of the spots where the drama unfolds in the battle for more territory. The more these super powers believe that they are going to create a new world order, the more they just follow in the footsteps of rulers from history.


Submitted: July 20, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Steven du Preez. All rights reserved.

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