Post No.: 0279
History used to be written (and rewritten) and spread by the victors or by whoever was in power at the time, with the accounts of the losers often being erased or denied. But that’s okay though because the good guys always won in the end… because, well, whoever won in the end or became the most powerful always called themselves the good guys, even if they invaded and plundered foreign lands, captured and enslaved fellow humans or were the ones with the greater weapons of mass destruction(!)
Much of history was also written many years after the dates the events supposed to have happened, with numerous mis-recollections, fabrications, exaggerations per re-telling of the story from generation to generation, typically to make an event sound more epic, heroic or noble until it takes the status of patriotic or religious myth and legend. Mythologised characters are often created (e.g. Vikings with horned helmets, cowboys in Western genre movies). This means that we cannot always completely trust the history books about what really happened or how people were really like.
There were no photographs or therefore photo editing in the very old days, but paintings could be painted however the artist wanted, or needed in the case of if the client was a powerful person who’d punish an artist who didn’t flatter them! So paintings of important people, like royals, were painted in idealised ways, akin to applying favourable photo filters. And scenes, sculptures and pieces of visual art in general could and can be conjured up from pure imagination so cannot always be taken at face value as factually accurate records of history (e.g. it wasn’t like an artist set up his easel and oils (and it was almost invariably a ‘he’) in front of an actual ongoing bloody battle scene!)
Professional storywriters play their parts too (e.g. William Shakespeare on Richard III, and Hollywood or the video games industry today); often writing whatever will appease their current leaders, paymasters or customers/the market (just like social media influencers today too). History depends on who writes it, so these historical accounts often spoke more about their authors than the characters in their stories. The version of history that is taught to the next generation is also sometimes dependent on the country that one gets brought up in – with patriotically favourable events taught in the curriculum and patriotically unfavourable events left out.
There are often competing interpretations of historic events, and they can all in some cases be legitimate, thus to only hear from one side would lead to a bias. Hence we must question the sources of historical accounts and whether they might have had a bias. History is also always viewed through the lens of the present too, so we might need to ask if contemporary eyes are biased by contemporary times too, and indeed whether this is a problem or not?
Hopefully, modern and increasingly democratised technologies, such as camera phones and the Internet, will mean that fabrications or one-sided reports will no longer happen, or at least won’t be the only reports available to check. This will mean that anyone, including the poor, minorities, oppressed, illiterate and previously voiceless, can capture their own evidence and prove their cases as witnesses to major events too. Data leaks of the kind disclosed by internal whistleblowers help keep the powerful and secretive in check too. The current powerful may be seen in a different light in the future if/when they’re no longer powerful? Hypocrisies will be spoken about aloud rather than kept silent via the delusions and self-righteousness of, or the fear of, those once powerful. Woof!
However, this might only be a temporary state of affairs, if that, because nascent technologies are increasingly making fake footage easier to produce and once more we cannot be sure of what to believe in anymore! Deepfakes are getting harder to distinguish from the real thing, and technologies are getting better at emulating people’s voices too. This will not just be a problem of real individuals being wrongly accused for saying or doing something they didn’t say or do in private, but real individuals wrongly being let off for actually saying or doing something they did say or do in private but they blamed it on fabricated recordings or ‘fake news’.
The truth usually eventually finds its way onto the web somewhere, albeit it’s sometimes crowded-out by vociferous groups with their own agendas (e.g. extreme-view political groups) or by the misled leading the misled (e.g. urban legends), who in turn reinforce each other’s mistaken or unsupported views. Citizens have, as history has gone by, gradually become more literate to record things in diaries for themselves, and now are gradually becoming more tech-savvy to record things on the Internet for others to see – but even right now there are a lot of ‘alt facts’ being disseminated to spread biased information or lies, or just noise, around, that are trusted by enough people to make a difference to the courses of future history. (Please read Post No.: 0212 for more about false, fabricated or fake news.)
So really, there has never been, isn’t currently, and never will be, a time when we can simply unquestionably trust what we see, read or hear without verification and cross-referencing. All the more furry reason to become and remain critical thinkers and careful news consumers.
(If anyone is reading this(!) then how are you finding this blog so far? Is it interesting and educational? I welcome your feedback and suggestions via the Twitter comment button below. Thanks.)