“History is written by the victor.”
– Hari Seldon, Apple TV+’s “Foundation”, S1 E10, “The Leap”
All of my life, I believed the most important lesson about history was that those who do not know it, are doomed to repeat it. From a personal lessons learned perspective, the notion may make sense, within our own lives. Even on a macro level concerning battle strategies and other comparatively-sized predicaments, it may work. But in the grand context of civilization, this may be a complete fallacy.
Likely, you have heard the phrase as well, countless times. By its very nature, the concept brings comfort, explaining away long-festering problems due to improper decisions made before any of us were born. I, as an individual, have no impact on the course of events upon a world filled with billions of people. Blame the problems of society on others, on those more important, with influence, because I simply have no control over “history” no matter how much of a scholar I may be.
“History is written by the victor,” Apple TV+’s Foundation was not the first place I heard this quote, but it was remarkably appropriate placement coming from a film adaptation of the science fiction legend Hari Seldon. Seldon, if you are not familiar with Asimov’s Foundation stories, develops a form of mathematics called psychohistory, which has the magnificent capability to predict the course of future events. Psychohistory cannot tell what will happen to you next week, but it can predict what will happen to civilizations through the span of centuries, given a sufficient pool of unknowing participants (give or take a few quadrillion people).
And the statement is a not just profound, not just very profound, but disturbingly profound. It calls into question many assumptions which, perhaps, we take as immovable foundation, questioning both morals (what we perceive as right and wrong) and ethics (the procedures by which we act to hold morals). As a matter innocuous to our contemporary lives, suppose Carthage defeated Rome during the Punic Wars. Would Hannibal be our Julius Caesar today? How would that have impacted all future events and perceptions for the next several thousand years? Would Europe’s Eternal City have been nothing buy a forgotten field of salt today?
The proposition is disturbing because a crass interpretation could be, “Winning means everything.” What does it matter if your “side”is right or wrong, so long as you dominate the outcome? You can clean up the particulars later and history won’t side with the losing cause, no matter how correct or just its position may have been.
So the matter appears hopeless to know if we are living in the most just timeline, or is it? Written dissenting opinions are vital, and must be preserved, even if the losing side was ultimately “wrong.” Paper records must continue. With the move to digitize information, the stage is set for a coming Dark Age (pardon any reference to Foundation) where no records of thought, accounts, perceptions, and opinions will be preserved at best, and bluntly altered by the future victors at worst. And is this not already happening? How many written, musical, and film works have been adjusted to fit the latest enlightened norms?
I have been thinking about these matters over the past several years especially. Maybe it is the convergence of unique events and me getting older, but I find it hard not to refute that winning is all that matters, that history is written by those who win, because if you can repeat a lie long enough, those who rationally attempted to refute it will eventually die off, and falsehoods are remembered eternally as truth. This is my hypothesis, at least.
How much of this conundrum is baked into our existence, we may never know. Most do not even fathom or are curious, and accept what is provided by their rulers and governments, and their propaganda media outlets, as the one and sacred reality by which they must abide. Take any contemporary lunacy that is pushed by the controlling powers and ask, how long has stuff like this been going on? If lies are pushed as truth today, what would have been different 20 years ago? A century ago? A millennia ago? Human nature has not changed. I used to think that the Internet would nurture the next age of enlightenment, where all sorts of discussion and divergent positions could be vetted by the world, to arrive at reasonable and rationale platforms by which society could function. Instead,. the Internet and social media and everything they touch are locked in a meta battle of irreconcilable powerful interests, or so it seems. Control the digital narrative, and you control what the populace believe is true.
History is written by the victors.
Reality is defined by victors wielding worldly power.
Truth is defined by God.
Rationale and just Men should take comfort in this final proposition. The quest for Truth is the quest to find God, which happens through faith, predominantly from The Bible, and the practical observation of the Universe manifested through the scientific method. I am sure I am in an extreme minority in the 21st century, but I have always seen the pursuits of faith and science as intertwined, dependent on each other, and I contend it a fairly modern phenomena that these pillars should be considered anathema to each other. We have within each of us the ability to pursue the mission to find Truth, regardless of the lessons and matters of History unapproachable for the individual.