Thursday, January 15, 2009

Debating Tip #2: Learn From History

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow." - Ecclesiastes 1:9-11
It's a classic cliche; "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it." I recently saw an advertisement for the inauguration of President-Elect Obama, with the slogan "history only happens once" splashed across his face. Technically, that's true, but anyone who studies history knows that there's seldom anything new in politics. It's all just rebranded and repackaged.

"Your problem is that you are economists and lawyers and you assume people are rational. I'm a historian and I know they're not!" - Bob Cottrell

This dovetails nicely with the recent point I made about recessions, and the importance of historical context there.

Let's take another example though. Hurricane Katrina, and/or Hurricane Ike. As these storms approached and wreaked havoc in several countries before smacking Galveston, Texas (and during the aftermath) people were using these hurricanes to say that the weather was getting stronger than ever, and that the climate was changing because nothing like this had ever been seen before. In other words, being chronocentric. Records only go back so far anyway, but as the NYPost noted at the time, Galveston was ambushed with a similar storm more than a hundred years before.

Similar arguments can be (and are) made about global warming now. The ice is melting sooner than it ever has, the weather is getting warmer than it ever has, and so forth. Yet plenty of hard science indicates that we have seen far more extreme weather patterns in the past. (As old-earth scientists will say, the distant past.)

So if you're in a debate (either formally or informally) and someone extends some form of chronocentric hyperbole ("worst president ever" is a good recent example, but also alarmists of any type), it's good idea to back up and calmly put things in perspective.

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At January 15, 2009 at 10:07:00 PM PST, Blogger conanima said...

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