Scholars of history are a haunted bunch. They have spent years studying stuff from the past and have learned a few tough lessons from it.
This is the case because history truly has a tendency to repeat itself. As the old Biblical saying goes: ‘There is nothing new under the sun’
Essentially historians exist in at least two dimensions. In two realities, namely the past and the present. Some exist in three dimensions, including the future. And we like to call them ‘futurists’. In actual sense, they’re just historians of sorts.
Anyway, sometimes through a lens into the past these people warn us of what is to come. They can see a catastrophe before it becomes one. Observing certain patterns which manifest just before a crisis, they see the storm even before the clouds have gathered.
It’s a bit like a kid who breaks his father’s favourite display piece, maybe a trophy from the old man’s sporting days, or a memento from a trip abroad. That kid knows from past experience that when his father is back home, he won’t be pleased by the broken item. Believe him when he tells you that his father will be mad.
I know the term “historian” is not particularly interestng, which probably explains why they have few cheerleaders. So when these folk caution us, and offer advice, but no one listens; when they raise the alarm, and offer solutions, but are continually rebuffed or dismissed as alarmists, some of them rightly get fed up, and stop talking.
Even their own individual efforts to prepare for the calamity that lays ahead is scoffed at: crazy, over-the-top; extravagant; coo coo; sensationalist; mad.
What does a man or woman do when their expertise, training or private study routinely reveals curious and troubling patterns of life and human existence? And yet when they sound an alarm, or offer advice, no one listens? Instead officialdom and others pour scorn on their warnings?
This is the story for all these haunted souls who warn us of what is to come, be it about misguided involvement in wars, about keeping our economies in check, about the dangers of inequality… or about the world not being sufficiently prepared for a pandemic. This is the burden they live with and have to carry.
But then disaster strikes, sometimes months down the line, but more often years later – when almost everyone has forgotten what that “crazy” man or woman said all those years ago.
And here something characteristically human happens. Few if anybody ever go back to apologise for not listening. In fact, if you ask me, only in Hollywood movies is an apology from this one fictitious person forthcoming.
What a way to treat your sentinels…what a way to treat your watchmen. Men or women who in all appearances are on the correct side of history. Shouldn’t society listen to them more?
But again, if merely responding to a warning in a way that could save people’s lives is too taxing, it’s little wonder that these pandemics keep happening.