Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I am reading about histories lately for the past year or so, specifically about Chinese and Roman histories. Well, I did so because I’m a history enthusiast and my foreign travels during the past year or so allow me to purchase titles that I couldn’t find in the local bookstores. And so, it came to past that in my readings during the past year or so that I began to feel a sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the subject matter. All along I thought I knew everything about there is to know about history (of China and Rome). For indeed I do, for a “layman”. My knowledge of history is in my assessment beyond the understanding of an ordinary “layman” or even an enthusiast. But as I dwelt more and more into my readings, I felt that I’m just skimming the surface of an unimaginably huge body of knowledge, which I never realized nor grasp before. Back in high school, I was already getting my hands on history books that are collecting dusts in the library so much so that the librarian would quip that “you’re literally the only one who opened those books and nobody else”. Those books are sleeping at the shelves since it was first bought! And every time I went to the library, the librarian would tried to “hide” from me or he would just get 1 or 2 titles that I requested and feigned that he couldn’t find the rest of the titles. Ha! It may come across as a puzzle to any ordinary layman and certainly my high school librarian as to why I kept on reading the same history but written by different authors. I mean history is history is history. It’s the past. One cannot change it simply by writing or reading it. Alexander the Great conquers Persia and Egypt and ruled the Mediterranean world as the Great King. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and won the civil war against Pompey the Great and Qin Shih Huang Di unified all of China and ushered the imperial era in Chinese history. No matter what history book you read, no matter who is the author, history is the same. What then was my purpose in reading the same history again and again? Was I looking for something? Perhaps. In all honesty, I myself never quite knew what was I looking for back then. It is only fairly recent that I finally understood as to why. History is the study of humanity; humanity’s behavior under a set condition; humanity’s reaction to a stimulus either a threat or an opportunity and humanity as a collective whole struggling to survive and to continue surviving. Most people see history as “what happened” in the past but as I come to understand, history is not just about “what happened”. History is also about “how it happened” and “why it happened” and by extension, “should it happened at all”. Knowing “what happened” leads one to search for “who did it” and “what did they do” and “when it did happen”. And in the end, we end up with names of dead people that we find burdensome to memorize; that we don’t know nor care to know. Studying history as “how it happened”, “why it happened”, and “should it happened” takes a great deal more than just simply memorizing names and deeds. It involves analysis and plain simple, common sense to figure things out. Knowing “how it happened”, “why it happened” and “should it happen” would lead to fundamental truths about humanity: that humanity would do things based on “reason” and “logic”; that humanity would engage in intricate complex actions just to pursue an unbelievably simple motive; and that humanity tends to “complicate” an otherwise simple thing and therefore render solutions to problems next to impossible. Talk about ingenuity in being stupid.