Historical revisionism can be a good thing sometimes. It makes it possible for us to go back and question what actually happened in different times, perhaps when we are faced with new evidence. In the stone age, I doubt there were any place for dinosaurs in the story and history that people told each other. And during wars the enemy is always the Bad Guy, no matter which side of the conflict you happen to be on.
In those cases, going back and re-evaluating what was actually going on back then might be a good idea. Perhaps the time-line is clear; first there was the amphibians, then there where small rodents and then bigger rodents and then people. Then suddenly you find yourself with a perfect fossil of a clown riding a bike preserved right next to a fossil of a deinonychus and you have to revise your world view and quite possibly history. After a war you might have to go back and try to figure out if all that was said and believed was actually true. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.
There is however a difference between going back and revising and denying that something happened at all. Revising can be both good and bad, depending on how it’s used (as with everything else), but denial of events is rarely a good thing to do. Actually, I cannot think of a single case when it is.
The thing is, we live in a world nowadays where editing is easy. I can go into any blog entry I have ever written on this blog and change whatever I like. Suddenly I can change everything I have written here about my past. I don’t even have to tell anyone. Not even leave a single line at the bottom saying : “(Edited: [reason]”. One can edit forum posts. On Skype one can edit or even remove lines. If one edit a message there is an indicator. Sometimes there is if one removes a message too. But there is no way to get the original message back.
I use the edit functions primarily to correct typos; both here and on Skype. Here I also might add a link or two, or italics, but mostly I use it to fix typos. If I ever change a text in a way that change it’s meaning, I tell people. I only think that is fair. I do not think it is very fair to change things and then pretend that it never happened.
However, these functions do seem to appeal to people who do like to pretend mistakes never happen. Said something stupid on Skype? Just remove it! Were wrong on a forum? Change the post and claim you were right from the start! Got a lot of people angry for a hateful comment you made somewhere? Just remove it and pretend it never happened! Oh, how easy it is; if only life was this easy in the analogue world as well!
Earlier today I spoke to a person on Skype, who decided to “hug” me. The thing is, I don’t really know him and I dislike being hugged by strangers. I told him this and he apologised. But that was apparently not enough for him; he also removed the line where he had “hugged” me. I told him that this was not at all necessary and that mistakes are allowed as long as someone learns from them. Then this exchange happened:
(person): But if mistakes can be corrected, why not to?
pao: But removing it doesn’t mean it never happened.
(person): Sure, but it means it got corrected
pao: The past cannot ever be “corrected”. You did it, and I said it was not all right, and you apologised. That is the only action that is needed.
This view is beginning to bother me more and more. If we can just rewrite the past and pretend that we never did anything wrong, how will we be able to learn from our mistakes? If you deny the past for long enough, people will forget there was even a past there in the first place. If you pretend that your mistakes never happened, no one else will be able to learn from them either.
In this modern age where history may be edited and revised and altered ad nauseum, or even removed completely with the press of a button or two, I think we will all have to ask ourself that question; why should we not? Why should we let our mistakes show? Why should we keep our mistakes in our narrative? Why should we not just purge all the terrifying history of all our horrible crimes from our lives and pretend it never happened? Would that not make us happier? Ignorance is bliss, right?
I don’t think so. I know some people do, but I don’t. I think our past teaches us things that should never be forgotten, and that acknowledging this is the only reasonable and responsible thing we can do. We are all adults. We can accept that sometimes, we are wrong. If we really try. We can look back and say; “Oh my god! What the epic fuck was I thinking?!” We can look at our mistakes no matter how horrible they were and learn from them. Know what we did wrong and in knowing that know that we should not do that again.
If history is removed just because we could not stand having made mistakes, what would we be? We all make mistakes. Sometimes terrible mistakes we would rather want to forget. The least we can do is to acknowledge them and learn from them, no matter how much it hurts.
Tomorrow is a new day, with new history to be written.
/pao – 2 may 2012 – 23.51