Development of an individual’s identity parallels recorded history
All people share a similar sense of the progression of their identity. Maturation feels like a slow, calm process in which good ideas replace bad. No one tells stories of when they were 12 and a bad idea permanently infected them and changed their life for the worse. Not unless that idea is now gone from them. There’s another entity that claims to go through a similar progression: recorded history. It tells of a series of battles in which good defeats evil.
You may argue that recorded history does not show such a progression. Many “evil” empires prospered and defeated many good ones in history. This is true, but none considered evil are currently on top. Similarly, someone could acknowledge their bigotry, but only if they’ve now overcome it. None say it currently rules them.
We understand that history is strongly biased by it being written by the victors. Let’s consider that our identity suffers from the same bias. Our mental development is similar in many ways to recorded history if we consider ourselves battlegrounds for ideas. The victorious ideas which we now possess write our own history for us. Each tells a story of how it beat an inferior idea for its spot.
What are the implications? One appears when we consider how history would look if Hitler had won. It would not read, “And the dark forces of evil marched all over the face of the earth.” It would look very much as it does now, implying good defeated evil yet again. Who knows how many Hitlers won in our history. The Native Americans’ history probably considers us to be one of them.
Similarly, who knows how many Hitler ideas each of us possess? How many snuck in by defeating better ideas and have drastically changed our lives for the worse? The point is that we could never know. Once these ideas get in using whatever methods necessary, they sit in judgment of whatever they conquered. Of course, judged by their own standards, they’ll decide that they are better and you’ve improved.
We also notice that “Hitler ideas” seem to conquer individuals as an army. People don’t possess a single damaging idea. They usually have many. Using history as a model for identity, it’s easy to see how this could happen. Once one gets in the door, it is now poised to let all the others in through what is effectively an unguarded entrance into that person’s mind. For example, if I let in the idea that one race is inferior, then that will have no problem letting in the generalization that many others also are, or even that another is superior. It only has to combine the simplest logic with the original idea to let all the others in.
About this essay
Recall your development as a person as the gradual aquisition of good ideas over bad ones? So does recorded history.
- August 23, 2004