Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Keep Trying to Tell Y'all

Who said this?
"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest [our nation] become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

Nope, not some modern day Republican but Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, writing in 55 BC. (Quote via Jerry Pournelle.)

I keep trying to tell folks that human nature doesn't change, just our surroundings. Core lessons, once learned, are eternal and always relevant. But no, even with all our technology to keep the lessons of the past alive, we still forget what we already know.

Years ago, I read a large part of Thucydides' (or Xenophon's?) history of the Grecian peninsula. It was full of wars, betrayals, sons turning on fathers, wives cheating on husbands, treachery, thievery, pride, ego, public scandal, you name it. It read just like Dallas or any modern soap opera, except the stories were thousands of years old and only described one very small part of a large world. I was struck that I could relate and understand it all so well.

In high school, I remember reading about Medieval and Rennaisance Europe, all the courtiers and schemers and social climbers and political maneuverers. Teachers tried to make it sound like it was all long ago, that modern-day Americans no longer behaved that way in our modern democratic republic. But you look at Washington, DC, today and you see that it is ever thus.

Nothing much changes because we keep turning away from what we know to be true, believing that this time we are different and things will be different.

We are lucky to be the direct inheritors of the wealth of observation and study and application that the Founding Fathers (and some Mothers, like Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison and Mercy Otis Warren) created and handed down. They were keen and discerning students of the past. And they too recognised their lessons would be lost in a couple of generations.

They understood that Democracy and Reason flowed against the natural human tide. That they were artificial and required vigilance and effort to keep.

Even with technologies that can preserve and spread that information far and wide as never before, that can enable self-study and education as never before, we still forget. Or, worse still, ignore and repudiate.

History shows us what will happen. We need only learn it and keep it fresh.