Ignorance Is Disaster: Why It Pays To Know History

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.” – variation of a quote by George Santayana

Those ignorant of this quote are doomed to hear it repeated also. I’ve heard history professionals praise and condemn this concept. Those who praise it (I am one) revel in its quality of just comeuppance. They like to think that their superior knowledge will avail them in the future when others are forced to replay some rather nasty bits of history. This is the ego in human nature, but that doesn’t make the quote untrue.

Those that condemn this idea of ignorance breeding repetition are either fans of experiential history where each generation must make its way on its own instincts, or they simply don’t want to face the fact that this particular quote is true, painfully true. Ignorance is only bliss for a while.

The truth is that the ones who are ignorant of history usually trump the ones that have studied it in that so many people are ignorant of history in general – the odds are in their favor. Bad ideas have a greater chance of being replayed because of this. Each succeeding generation, ignorant of the pain and suffering an idea or course of action caused those who came before, get a flash of brilliance and think, hey, this might work after all – let’s try it again.

Socialist hiccups

Communism is like this. Even among historically educated people, often in academic circles, is a day-dream like coma to the realities of applied Communism in history, past and present. Life in the Soviet union was terrible, especially if you got on the wrong side of the firing squad. Life in communist Cambodia was horrible, especially if you lived long enough. Castro’s Communist Cuba is not a land of a thousand delights. Communism and it’s relatives, Socialism, dictatorship, and Fascism have led to the most wholesale genocide in virtually the entirety of history. It is insanity to think it will work again (and yet, people want to try)!

A connoisseur of irony, my favorite response from academic types trying to make excuses for violent Communist excess was, “Well, it wasn’t Communism that was the problem, it was the Russians/Slavs/Cambodians/Cubans/Vietnamese/Koreans/Chinese, etc… that messed it up. Now, if we would try it, it would be different!” If you keep trying the same thing and expect a different result each time, is that not the definition of insanity?

My plea to you – pick up a book and learn about history – the true kind. Don’t be one of the many who are fooled into thinking that a bad idea (any bad idea not just Communism) the first time, might become a good idea if we simply try it again!

– Amanda Stiver