Post No.: 0737
Illegitimate historical revisionism (or negationism) and denying acts of atrocity that one’s side had committed is a function of cognitive dissonance, whereby most people believe that they and their own side/ingroup (e.g. forebears) are morally good people, and morally good people don’t do atrocious things. Thus if one’s own side has been accused of committing atrocious acts – even when evidence is provided for it – then rather than now believing that one’s side isn’t moral anymore, one would rather initially believe that the allegations are damned falsehoods and fake news! That’s the additional problem with the prevalence of fake news – real news can be readily rationalised as being fake (e.g. like how Russian state media tried to twist events during the war in Ukraine to serve the Kremlin’s narratives).
So there’d be an incompatibility, a dissonance, to simultaneously believe that one’s side is morally upstanding yet one’s side committed such horrors, hence one belief or the other has to give – and almost invariably the belief that’ll more readily give way won’t be the belief that one’s side is morally upstanding. Instead, past events of horrors committed by one’s side will be denied or downplayed. The staunch belief in the unwavering moral character of one’s side is due to the belief in the superiority of one’s side. With more humility and honesty, we’d be more ready to accept that our fellow group members, ancestors and ourselves weren’t or aren’t perfect.
Biases like negatively stereotyping members from outgroups, and ‘ingroup favouritism’ or ingroup-serving biases, are some of the most troubling and obstructive aspects of humankind towards creating a more harmonious world. Biases like ingroup preference and superiority (e.g. one’s own racial pedigree or nation is ‘über alles’) are also probably some of the most difficult biases to shift too.
One’s trusted sources of information and evidence will be from one’s own partial echo chambers too. In this online social media age, any group can find what seems like a large group of like-minded people from around the world. Like-minded members will seek for and gravitate towards each other, then consequently reinforce each others’ biased views, whilst dissenters and outside views are silenced or crowded-out.
Echo chambers make us feel even more confident that our present worldviews are correct. And any outsiders who attempt to challenge them will be the ones who’ll be deemed ignorant and perhaps brainwashed. If the attacks from the outside appear systematic then we might even rationalise that there’s some sort of conspiracy against our kind. We’ll think the lies and propaganda are coming from those from the outside when they could be coming from within our side. Well often it’ll be coming from all sides, as everyone fights less for the truth via assessing the prevalence and quality of evidence and more for whatever serves our own ingroup and thus personal interests.
Bits that don’t fit into our group’s desired narrative or image are pretermitted until hopefully forgotten, which leads to an over-coherent and romantic history of one’s heritage. Evidence and historical facts are cherry-picked to suit a clear story of ‘good versus evil’ and that one’s side were the heroes, who prevailed. Commemorative statues are largely one-sided monuments that represent the favourable (angles of the) people and events of one’s nation’s history. The same with annual national commemorative days. Even if our side unequivocally lost then movies can still be made to make our forebears appear heroic because they ‘battled bravely against the odds’. So if a national failure can be twisted into a story of pluck then it will, otherwise it won’t be talked about, won’t be taught in primary schools, and therefore the memories of them will hopefully collectively fade to dim… if it weren’t for pesky historians trying to uncover and teach us the fuller truths! We might therefore only later learn that some statues and monuments have been erected to honour controversial figures. It’ll again only be humility and honesty that’ll lead us to, eventually, honour those whom our people had committed atrocities against with monuments to remind us to never repeat what happened.
There’s the revisionism of religiously significant events to suit the present agendas of particular religious sects. This propaganda could radicalise moderate religious followers into believing extremist tenets.
Oversimplistic narratives like ‘democracy is faultless and anyone who even thinks about any other way is being subversive and treasonous and thus must be repressed and persecuted’ or ‘soldiers from our side never commit war crimes’ affect the nationalistic beliefs of generations to come. But in reality, when we deeply study history and every conflict, there aren’t always perfect lines separating the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, or even ‘good deeds’ and ‘evil deeds’, even though one side might’ve been far more despicable than another in an overall sense. War crimes are typically committed by members from all sides; even if we might attempt to make scapegoats out of a few individuals from our own side if something might damn the entire reputation of one’s side as a whole. Even if there were truly ‘only a few bad apples’ from our own side – the argument of ‘not everybody’ would apply to other sides too.
We need to somehow achieve a balance between protecting our teammates (e.g. soldiers checking up on each others’ mental health) without protecting our own teammates when they do something wrong (e.g. helping to cover up their crimes). It’s made to appear disloyal if one highlights one’s current or even historical national human rights abuses; and one can deflect attention away from them by pointing out the human rights abuses of other nations too. But a country like Germany hasn’t denied its own history but has instead learnt to accept it, discuss it, never forget it, and in the long run this has done the country good for it has moved on to lead a new, prosperous and progressive era.
A national(istic) narrative can unite a group together quite strongly, for better or worse. A group may even conjure up or trust in a made-up heritage (e.g. the KKK believing that whites are the rightful, natural and original members of America, rather than the Natives if anybody – nah, they were the ‘savages’(!)) And most people think their own nation is the greatest in the world. But that’s partly because people tend to be more credulous to their own nation’s propaganda, and their own erroneous or crude stereotypes and misunderstandings of other nations. We, based on our own national(istic) biases, can too easily trust in claims that state which disputed territories most justifiably belong to which country.
Populations are keen to bask in the reflected glories of their successful country folk but are desperate to distance themselves away from those who do terrible things. The latter are rationalised as ‘not really one of us’. This contributes to ideas of national or racial supremacy and exceptionalism. We might even attempt to claim any tenuous link to fame or to the famous by pointing out how someone who’s globally celebrated is perhaps ‘one-eighth nationally one of ours because of his/her great grandparent’ or how they were foreign but worked for a company that originated in one’s country (but was by then bought out by a foreign organisation) or something like that(!)
Regardless, we might have heroic ancestors but that won’t make us personally heroic – we must perform our own heroic deeds rather than bask in other people’s glories. Well if one should be praised for what one’s ancestors did – should one be culpable for what they did too? And therefore should others be praised or culpable for what their ancestors did?
Allies are downplayed or omitted when teaching about national victories (e.g. Prussians, and others, are barely mentioned in typical layperson British accounts of the Battle of Waterloo). Even though we might argue that some do it far more egregiously than others – all countries have their own propaganda, and cherry-pick events to teach in their history lessons to their schoolchildren. And we perpetuate it ourselves whenever we patriotically and unquestioningly accept what we hear from our own side as true, unadulterated or complete. All countries like to airbrush or keep silent about the unfavourable parts of their own histories (e.g. China and the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre); present overly favourable, coherent narratives of key events (to make them appear more epic and to romanticise them); plus overly neat caricatures of good guys versus bad guys (and that one’s side were the former).
Modern humans used to perpetuate plenty of propaganda against Neanderthals by calling them dumb, ugly and inferior – until scientists learnt that most humans alive today contain Neanderthal DNA! And of course people are even more closely related to each and every other human alive today if people want to call people of other ethnicities dumb, ugly or inferior. Perhaps if you can put your world before your country then you can be everyone’s hero? Woof!
History is written by the victors (read Post No.: 0279). So some of our historical national heroes might be feted precisely because they successfully invaded, looted and enslaved people from foreign lands during times of imperialism – whereas from a more neutral standpoint, they’d probably be regarded as the villains. So we ideally must learn to be aware of our own nation’s propaganda before attacking another nation’s, otherwise we’ll just be hypocrites. Also, if history isn’t being recorded by being written down (possibly because it’s only being passed on by the oral tradition) then events will be hard to verify and easy to deny; but it won’t mean that they didn’t happen.
Something hasn’t been discovered yet unless it has been discovered by one of our own (e.g. claiming that Christopher Columbus was the first to have discovered the Americas, or naming it Pythagoras’ theorem even though the Greek philosopher wasn’t the first to have discovered it).
We’re most interested in the sports and sporting competitions that we (well our representatives) excel at, but consider the sports that we’re mediocre at ‘not real sports’ and the sporting competitions we do poorly at ‘dull’! We might merely claim that someone from our country invented a particular sport when we otherwise don’t excel at it.
When our own economy is booming, we’re chest-puffing. But when a competing nation’s economy is booming, we’ll be looking for ways to condemn them and bring them down – even when we’re supposedly all for the benefits of capitalism and free trade. It’s like spying is sexy when it’s our own spies who are causing trouble for other countries, but it’s downright contemptible when spies from other countries are causing us trouble! It’s like we’re all for it if we’re finding out salacious gossip about other people’s private lives (e.g. celebrities), but it’s a gross violation of our rights if our own privacy is compromised. Or it’s like it’s okay for our citizens to emigrate to wherever we want, but immigrants aren’t welcome here (even if one’s nation was in large part built by colonists or immigrants in the first place). And more…
Harking back to the ‘historic greatness of one’s nation’ is frequently used to rally the nation’s spirit to get back to those (supposedly) ‘good old days’ (e.g. the UK and the Brexit campaign, the USA and ‘Make America Great Again’). Constantly harking back to World War victories about a century ago, or a World Cup about half a century ago, is supposed to inspire us – but can end up reminding us that we haven’t achieved anything quite as globally great, and that the losers at the time have done much better than us, since(!) The British used to be more proud that the British Empire kick-started the fossil-fuel-fed Industrial Revolution.
But knowledge and attitudes can advance. The facts of events shouldn’t be revised (unless the evidence for them happening as claimed gets legitimately overturned) but our acceptance, understandings and evaluations of them can.