K. R. Popper. Open society and its enemies
Is there a key to the story? Does it make any sense in the history?
I do not want to go into the problem of the meaning of the concept "meaning" myself, because I take it for granted that most people clearly understand what they mean when they say about the "sense of history" or about the "meaning and purpose of life". [...] Given exactly this understanding of the "meaning", I answer the question posed: "The story of meaning has not."
In order to substantiate this my opinion, I must first speak out about the concept of "history", which people have in mind, asking whether history has meaning. Until now, I myself have spoken about "history"; as if no explanation is required. However, now this can not be done, because I want to clarify that the "stories" in the sense in which most people speak about it, simply does not exist, and this is one of the reasons for my contention that it does not make sense.
How do most people use the term "history"? (I mean that understanding of the term "history" when talking, for example, about a book on the history of Europe, and not when they say that this is the history of Europe.) People get acquainted with this understanding of history in school and at university. They read books on history, they learn what is understood in such books under the name of "world history" or "human history", and are accustomed to look at history as a more or less definite series of facts, believing that these facts constitute the history of mankind.
However, we have already seen that the field of facts is infinitely rich, and selection is necessary here. In accordance with our interests, we could, for example, write a history of art, language, food traditions, or even the history of typhus (as G. Zinser did in Rats, Lice and History, Rats, Lice, and History )). Of course, none of these stories, like all of them together, is a history of humanity. And that's why people, speaking about the history of mankind, mean the history of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian and Roman empires, etc., up to the present day. In other words, they talk about the history of mankind, but in fact what they basically mean and study in school is a history of political power.
In my opinion, there is no single history of mankind, but there are only an infinite number of stories related to different aspects of human life, and among them is the history of political power. It is usually elevated to the rank of world history, but I maintain that this is offensive to any serious concept of human development. Such an approach is hardly better than interpreting the history of theft, robbery or poisoning as a history of mankind, since the history of political power is nothing more than the history of international crimes and massacres (including, of course, some attempts to suppress them). Such stories are taught in schools and at the same time extolled as its heroes some of the greatest criminals.
Is there really a universal history as a real history of mankind? Probably not. I believe this should be the answer to this question of every humanist and especially every Christian. The real history of mankind, if it were, should have been the history of all people, and hence the history of all human hopes, struggles and sufferings, for no man is more important than any other. It is clear that such a real story can not be written. We must abstract something from something, we must neglect something, we must select. Thus we come to a multitude of stories and among them - to the history of international crimes and massacres, which is usually declared the history of mankind.
Why is it that the history of political power, rather than the history of, say, religion or poetry, is chosen from the whole variety of different stories?
There are different reasons for this. One is that power affects all of us, and poetry only on a few. Another reason is that people tend to idolize power. Without a doubt, the deification of power is one of the worst kinds of human idolatry, a relic of times of oppression and slavery. The deification of power is generated by fear - an emotion that is justly despised. The third reason for the transformation of political power into the core of the "history" is that people with power tend to want to be worshiped, and they are quite successful - many historians have written under the supervision of emperors, generals and dictators.
I understand that the views I outline will meet the most serious objections on the part of many, including some apologists of Christianity, because such statements as that God reveals himself in history, history makes sense and its meaning is the goal of God, are often considered part of Christian dogmatics, although in the New Testament it is hardly possible to find this confirmation. According to such statements, historicism is an essential element of religion. I do not accept this and insist that such a view is pure idolatry and superstition, not only from the point of view of the rationalist and humanist, but also from the point of view of Christianity. " [...]
I claim that history does not make sense. Of course, this does not mean that we are only able to look with horror at the history of political power or that we should take it as a cruel joke. After all, we can interpret history based on those problems of political power that we are trying to solve in our time. We can interpret the history of political power from the point of view of our struggle for an open society, for the power of reason, for justice, freedom, equality and for the prevention of international crimes. Although history has no purpose, we can impose our goals on it, and although history does not make sense, we can make it meaningful.
By asserting this, we again encounter the problem of nature and agreement [...]. Neither nature nor history can tell us what we must do. Facts, be they facts of nature or history, can not decide for us what purpose we should choose. It is we who bring the purpose and meaning to nature and history. People are not the same, but we can decide to fight for equal rights. Human institutions - such as the state - are not rational, but we can decide to fight to make them more rational. We and our common language as a whole are more emotional than rational, but we can try to become a bit more rational and learn to use language not as an instrument of self-expression (what romantic education guides us), but as a means of rational communication [... 1. History in itself - I mean, of course, the history of political power, and not a romantic story about the development of mankind - has no purpose, it makes no sense, but in our power to give it both. We can do this by fighting for an open society with its adversaries (who, in a difficult situation, always declare their humane feelings, following the advice of V. Pareto). Accordingly, we can interpret history as a process of such a struggle. In the end, the same can be said about the "meaning of life". It is in our power to decide what to aim for in life in order to determine our goals. [...]
I believe that the dualism of facts and decisions [...] is fundamental. Facts, as such, do not make sense. Only our decisions can give meaning to them. Historicism is only one of many attempts to overcome this dualism. It is based on fear and the desire to avoid realizing that we are fully responsible even for those samples that we choose to follow. It seems to me that such a desire is nothing more than an ordinary superstition. Historicism assumes that we can reap what we did not sow, convinces us that everything will and should be good if we go along with the history that we do not need any fundamental decisions on our part. He is trying to shift our responsibility to history and thereby to the actions of demonic forces outside of us, and to justify our actions by the hidden aspirations of these forces, which can only come to us in mystical inspiration and intuition. Thus, historicism reduces our actions and ourselves to the level of human morality, inspired by the horoscope and dreams and trying to get a lucky ticket to the lottery. [...] Like a card game, historicism is born from extreme disappointment in the rationality and responsibility of our actions. He represents the hope and faith of a man whose dignity is humiliated. Historicism is an attempt to substitute for the hope and faith of man, which are engendered by moral enthusiasm and contempt for success, some certainty based on pseudoscience about the stars, on "human nature" or on historical predestination.
I argue that historicism is untenable not only from the point of view of rationalism, it also contradicts any religion that teaches that conscience plays a very important role in a person's life. After all, such a religion must be consistent with a rationalistic view of history in the sense that our highest responsibility for our actions and for their influence on the course of history should be given special importance. Yes, we need hope. To act, live without hope is beyond our strength. However, we do not need more and more of us should not be given. We do not need certainty. In particular, religion should not be a substitute for dreams and fulfillment of desires, it should not be like carrying out a lottery, or implementing a policy in an insurance company. The historical element in religion is an element of idolatry and superstition.
The emphasis on the dualism of facts and decisions also determines our position regarding ideas such as "progress". If we think that history is progressing or that we are forced to progress, then we are making the same mistake as those who believe that history has a meaning that can be discovered in it, not given to it. To progress is to move towards a goal that exists for us as human beings. For history it's impossible. Only we, human individuals can progress, and we can do this by defending and strengthening those democratic institutions on which freedom depends, and at the same time progress. We will achieve great success in this if we are more aware of the fact that progress depends on us, on our vigilance, on our efforts, on the clarity of our concept about our goals and the realistic choice of such goals. [...]
Instead of standing in the pose of the prophets, we must become the creators of our destiny. We must learn to do everything as well as we can, and identify our mistakes. Dropping the idea that the history of political power will judge us, and getting rid of anxiety about whether history will justify us or not, we, perhaps, will succeed in establishing control over the authorities. This is how we, for our part, can justify history. It hardly requires a special justification. "
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