History is Not Boring discussion

History is about patterns...

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message 1: by Veronica (last edited Mar 19, 2009 02:03PM) (new)

Veronica Perdomo | 5 comments A former co-worker posits that there is nothing existing in today's culture that does not have a tangible and recognizable connection to other events, people, and circumstances in history.

For the purposes of instruction (I am a newly-minted history teacher) as well as my own edification, I would like to solicit responses to the following:

If history is all about patterns, what are the most salient and recognizable influences/effects of previous time periods/events/historical figures on our modern-day society?

Example: The American conception of beauty was inherited from Greek idealization of the physical form. The ancient Greeks valued youth and physical fitness and tended to idealize figures represented in sculpture and art.

I look forward to seeing what you all have to offer!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Just to let you know that the Greeks were inspired by their contacts with the Egyptians in ancient times to create the images that eventually dominated classical Greece. If you care to know, our modern conceptions of beauty are not only Greek but also Egyptian in many ways.

message 3: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments Historical patterns? How about expanding and shrinking empires. They get strung too far away from home and eventually shrink under their own size. Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, Rome, etc.

What about the battle between government intervention in markets and laisszfaire, free markets. Socialism and capitalism. They swing back and forth over time with some predictability; too far one way and a correction to too far the other. We're seeing that now.

message 4: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Perdomo | 5 comments FANTASTIC, Will! I'm moving into the Age of Exploration with my kids and it would be a perfect time to start focusing their attention on the strain that expansion puts on the conquering country/empire.

We haven't started talking markets and economic systems in great detail yet, but I'll bring that pendulous swing into play.

Thanks for the insight!

message 5: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
Overexpansion of empires reminds me, conceptually speaking, of outrunning supply lines in military engagements.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, imperialism is motivated by the need of natural resources and the need of new markets to sell those resources after they are transformed into manufactured goods. This is an aspect of imperialism that applies to almost every great empire in history (Chinese, Hellenic, Mongol, Roman, Inka, Islamic, and English among them). The need for resources created this a particular patter of behavior. Military engagements seem to be highly motivated by economics going back to the discovery of agriculture during the Neolithic. The starting point in the history of human conflict seems to be highly influenced by our perceptions of what we think we need. Scarcity of any given resource (such as gold, diamonds, or oil) seems to create a desire to control a particular resource by any means possible. Our twisted notions of what we think we need has translated in really horrible acts in our history.

message 7: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod

message 8: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Perdomo | 5 comments ...bringing us into the Iraq war, for example. Good pattern.

message 9: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments This discussion reminds me of one of the chapters on Jarred Diamond's book "Collapse".

He lists many societies that over reach their potential and exhaust their resources.

I was intrigued on his chapter regarding the inhabitants of Easter Island. Apparently they exhausted their lumber to move those gigantic stone heads. Once the lumber was gone, their society/religious base fell apart.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

"...bringing us into the Iraq war, for example. Good pattern."

Indeed! It seems that economics remains a key factor behind conflict. It is a sad reality but a reality we must be aware of if we want to break away from it. After all, I refuse to believe that all historical patterns have negative consequences. It seems we often tend to remember the bad (is that another pattern?).

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Manuel! I have read the research on Easter Island and I am hoping that one of these days people will realize that we are simply pushing our luck with this planet. Good point!

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message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Isn't there a pattern to the growth of bureaucracies within a state or culture? I seem to recall reading something about it. They were comparing stages within a bunch different empires: Chinese, Mongol, Roman, Egyptian & European, at least. It was something to do with the vitality of the state suffered due to success.

message 13: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I think I read something somewhere that described it as "death by red tape."

message 14: by Will (last edited Mar 22, 2009 06:36AM) (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments Death by red tape. I love it. It's so correct and fits a pattern. Corporations do the same. They merge to "streamline" and improve efficiency and ultimately develop beauracracies that become ever more cumbersome, bloated and inefficient.

As to: Are all patterns bad? No, in the economic swings I mentioned earlier, I think it's a healthy part of American prosperity that we find our center by swinging left and right, reacting and adjusting appropriately to reality. We may react too slowly, often, but we do react and adjust to find our way forward--the beauty of our system; not of our demise...I hope.

message 15: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Perdomo | 5 comments As to bureaucracy: Is there a way to manage/govern expansive empires (or populations, or corporations, etc.) without having to resort to bureaucracy?

As to negative consequences of historical patterns and remembering them:

It seems that every age manages, despite whatever horrors or abuses which it may be guilty of committing, to offer something of such beauty and power, both of which are a product of the patterns that emerged before... as such, can we fairly consider said patterns "negative?"

And as to remembering the negatives, I think the positives equally define any given time. (Also, isn't that part of the purpose of studying history, to learn from both?)

AND since we've been talking about patterns of economic motivation for the spread of empires, how unusual of an exception are nonmarket societies, like the Inca? Is there a pattern in motivation between *those* cultures?

I am loving these posts, guys!

message 16: by Peter (new)

Peter (pericone) | 1 comments You might also want to check out the works of UK scientist-historian James Burke, who worked on how everything in history is interrelated. See his Knowledge Web (http://www.k-web.org/).

message 17: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Ro wrote: "As to bureaucracy: Is there a way to manage/govern expansive empires (or populations, or corporations, etc.) without having to resort to bureaucracy?..."

An interesting question, Ro. I worked for a company that had about 600 employees when I started. It was lean & hungry, the owners very much in touch with what was going on. Eight years later, it had 3 times as many employees & the owners had lost touch with daily affairs. There were a lot of 'middle managers' who did an amazing job of passing the buck by following form & not getting the job done. It wasn't all their fault - the owners were doing the same thing as they were too busy & had split duties between themselves. There was too much for them to handle personally any more. They had to delegate.

My job gave me an interesting perspective. I was a long time employee & head IT tech, so out of the direct line of command of most & familiar with all parts of the business. I'd gone from officially being 2 levels below the owners to 5. On several occasions, I'd send a request or be asked for information & then go directly to the owners a week or two later to find out what was going on with it. I often found the information had been garbled in transit &, occasionally, had died on the way. Very frustrating & the business got hurt because of it more than once.

I think they HAD to develop the red tape maze. The owners were only human & had gotten to a point of overload on the amount of information they could handle & time they had to deal with it. It didn't work out so well. A lot of the best employees left. The company wound up shedding 1/3 of their business, but is still full of bureaucrats & doing better again. Still not the kind of place I would want to work anymore.

message 18: by Veronica (new)

Veronica Perdomo | 5 comments Peter: AWESOME site!!! Well done!

Jim: Delegation is absolutely necessary on a number of different levels, but as your story illustrates, the larger the group, the farther removed the heads of said group. Are those at the top NECESSARILY out-of-touch with those at the bottom? Are large societies by nature inefficient and doomed to "death by red tape?"

message 19: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Ro, I certainly don't know for sure, but I expect the answer is "yes" at least to some extent. The type of personalities that want or wind up being in various positions have a lot to do with it.

I'm not a very good team player, manager or self-employed person. I work best when I work directly for those who make policy, but with a lot of autonomy. My type of person was what the company was filled with when it was young. As it expanded, our kind was stifled by unimaginative types who were more interested in not getting in trouble than getting the job done. This latter type seems to like red tape.

The worst problem I saw was communication. Did you ever do that old experiment where the teacher whispers a message to one person who then passes it along to the next until twenty people later it's whispered back to the teacher & it bears no resemblance to the original message? In my job, it is often difficult to explain things to non-technical people. Something as simple as a backup plan or disaster recovery (Business Continuity Planning) is critical & can be very expensive (expensive = bad news) so it isn't put forward properly by those in the middle & isn't understood well, especially after being translated through several levels who don't understand the technicalities.

I've seen it happen & it would be funny, if it wasn't so tragic. I pointed out that our Internet & phone were completely dependent on a specific set of cables that could be easily damaged. I suggested that we invest in an alternate solution but it was shot down in mid stream due to cost. Alternatives were outlined, but none of the message got through. When the worst happened, I had a couple of irrate owners asking me why I hadn't planned for it. I happened to have a copy of the emails on it & the middle manager wasn't with the company for much longer.

Worst, the same questions came up with nightly backup of files & email archiving, but the owners didn't want to address the issue directly. "Take it through channels. That's why they're there." OK, I did, again, it died. Again, the current solution failed & there was a lot of blame floating around. Again, none of the blame was mine, but I started looking for another job. I don't like rampant stupidity.

message 20: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
As to James Burke - his first Connections series (and the book, obviously) made a huge impression on me when it came out. I think I was 13 when I saw it on PBS.

message 21: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 21, 2009 06:55PM) (new)

"AND since we've been talking about patterns of economic motivation for the spread of empires, how unusual of an exception are nonmarket societies, like the Inca? Is there a pattern in motivation between *those* cultures?"

The Inka Empire had the same motivations that other empires had when it came to territorial expansion. The Inka depended heavily on the resources from the areas they conquered. Living in the Andes mountains, the food supply was not the most reliable. Trade beyond the borders of the empire was not the norm (actually I do not recall of any evidence that shows the Inka trading with other nations). Internal exchange of products was key for the survival of the empire and the reason behind the creation of a system of roads that was superior to that created by the Romans. The Inka, if you read "1491" were able to develop an effective system of production that resulted in the elimination of hunger in the empire. This is a very unique case in history. The form of government the Inka created, declared by some as an early form of communism, is essential for the understanding of the Inka success.

Unfortunately, this is a rare case in history. Application of similar ideas have created negative results. If we look af the Inka, the application of their laws was, at times, brutal. Reason why many conquered people sided with the Conquistadors against the Inka. This is another pattern of behavior in history. People do not like being conquered.

Territorial expansion is also connected with another historical pattern: HUMAN GREED. Often enough we see empires suffering from the effects of overexpansion but they often remain unwilling to give up those lands they cannot control. The Empire Alexander created, the Roman Empire, the Napoleonic Age, the English Empire, and even the Third Reich are examples of expansion beyond economics.

message 22: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments Jim wrote, "I don't like rampant stupidity." What kind of stupidity is you like, Jim? Sorry, couldn't resist. His point was correct. There is a physical phenomenon that occurs with the increase of size there is a direct correlation to inefficiency. I doubt there is any way to defy that law of physics.

I spell it "Inca." No-market society? They did have markets; they traded goods. "Trade beyond the borders of the empire was not the norm." True, but they considered everything in their trading zone their empire, right? It was a functional form of communism, similar, often to medern communism where some were more "equal" than others, but yes, everyone successfully provided for their needs. Greed was punished harshly to enforce the rules.

Modern communism is a great study applicable to this discussion; the pattern that created the rise of communism is a pattern that is reoccuring throughout history. The rulers abuse the people and the people rise up in protest; sometimes they win the uprising and sometimes they lose. When they win, they often lose their way, quickly. Power corrupts...talk about an ever reoccuring pattern!

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Jim: The spelling of Inca or Inka is not as relevant to me. I was born in Peru and I have known Peruvian historians to use the "k" as often as others use "c." As for matter economics, of course they considered the lands and people they traded with part of the empire. Like the Chinese and Japanese in their own times, internal economics were essential. Regarding greed, as punishable was this was among the the Inka, it does not change the fact that there was a social pyramid in place that favored the nobility. The Inka developed a form of communism but, like the models developed in the 20th century, they did not promoted complete equality but system to enforce a social pyramid in which social mobility was a rare thing. I tend think that what makes ideas like communism such a failure is our human tendency to dislike sharing and dislike being like others. Our society always promotes ambition and success as essential elements of happiness. This perhaps can be a pattern as well. In our desire to achieve ideal social systems, we have turned the power of government to really controversial figures. Patterns, patterns...

message 24: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Alex, it was Will who was discussing the spelling of Inca. I know nothing about them. Unforgivable ignorance. Maybe someday I'll read up on them some more.

Will, cute. I guess I stuck my chin out for that one. ;-)  I actually don't usually jump out of my skin at occasional stupidity. Besides practicing it myself (I do fairly well, thanks!) I also raised 3 kids.

Willful ignorance is a type of stupidity that disgusts me, probably more than it should. I see it too often in my job. People who must use a computer for their job & yet are inordinately proud of the fact that they know nothing about it. They get stuck until I can get to them to re-map a drive or hook up a printer, yet instructions are readily available.

I don't think the inefficiencies of a large organization have to exist as severely as they do. It's a matter of priorities & perspective, which is a human failing. Often the daily grind gains a greater, more immediate importance than it really deserves. Longer range objectives are hidden by them. Also, we tend to think in a linear manner & it becomes a straight jacket.

Some large companies seem to embrace the rigid structures while others attempt to keep them at bay. I was slow in seeing the rigidness in my old company, but the signs were all there. I remember a big debate over whether my boss was the 'Director of IT' or 'IT Director'. Because she was the former, our department wound up getting buried.

The company I now work for don't have all those positions & my boss reports directly to the senior owner. I was ignorant, but I'm not stupid. I can't stand that kind of organization, so I don't work for one.

But overall, I agree with you. There is a limit to what the person on top can handle, so they must delegate & the inefficiencies creep in.

message 25: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
That "limit to what the person on top can handle" - I think that's what led to the creation of military general staffs.

message 26: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I have always been amazed the British managed to rule a huge country like India with only 30,000 British civil servants.

France needed 50,000 French civil servants to rule Vietnam; a country much smaller in size and population than India.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the Brits learned much from the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In time, the they removed themselves and replaced the empire with a commonwealth.

Susanna bring an interesting point about military involvement. It seems that a strong hand works best when trying to create a system of control.

Jim: It was Will! Deeply sorry about that mate!

message 28: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I think the Brits greatest strength was administration.

They managed to pull out of India and the country (despite partition) didnt fall apart. The civil service and the judiciary maintained (bureaucracy) kept things constant. The Brits at least started a policy of filling in civil service positions with Indians starting at the turn of the century, consequently when they pulled out, there were already trained administrators to take their place.

message 29: by Will (last edited Mar 23, 2009 03:01PM) (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments I didn't write that "Inka" is incorrect. I just stated that I use "Inca". I spell Brazil as "Brasil"; my choice of two correct ways.

"Willful ignorance." I don't think I've ever heard the term, but I love it. I'm probably guilty of it.

People are people: in the military, in government, in corporations, in society, in history; all have similar patterns, repeated over and over. Rising and falling, expanding and contracting, enlightened and ignorant, and controlling or corrupt, often.

message 30: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments It's probably not what you were looking for, Ro, but you opened with, "...there is nothing existing in today's culture that does not have a tangible and recognizable connection to other events, people, and circumstances in history."

It is possible to argue that the actions creating current economic crisis began with Reagan and Gingrich's commitment to laissez-faire markets and de-regulation. Just a thought.

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