Why We Study History?


Let us presume for a moment that the Filipino people does exist as one homogenous body and the life of that body is reflected in its history. Thus, the educator of that history tells us that the reason why we should study history is: to understand the present and prepare for the future, one must learn from the past; and in recent years, we are told of a “history from below”, “history of the inarticulate” or “history from the point of view of the people”-a history of the body from the perspective of the body. This is as far as subjectivity goes, just as our own greybeard Teodoro Agoncillo proudly declared, though one wonders if the subjectivity is on the side of the people-if ever there is one, for this is merely a presumption-or is it on the side of the greybeards of Manila, who because they are located in the abstract center of the Philippines also felt that their historical consciousness is the concrete center of any historical understanding.

The blissful educator of history then plays the role of the umalohokan, an instructor and not a teacher (no one likes to teach anyore under this “education from below”), a mere microphone in the presence of greybeards-that is, the “authorities” of the Philippine historical tradition who claim as a matter of pride some transcendental wisdom learned from extensive researches. Like Hegel, and not surprisingly like Hegel for many of the so-called Filipino intelligentsia venerate Hegel without understanding him, these “authorities” of Philippine history see themselves as products of the historical system of the world process.

The problem however is whether such a body exist beyond the abstraction of our sense of history, or is the Filipino people too like our greybeards-and add to that the Bangsamoro-are nothing more than illusory ghosts emerging from the carcass of the “inarticulate” or the stench “from below”? Our educators can openly proclaim, and proclaim with a certain degree of emotional disappointment, that the Filipino people lack historical consciousness. What is the difference between the people then and the people now in terms of interpreting the past? Nothing! And yet we are to place at the altar of the world spirit their point of view, their inarticulation, and their dread for the very intelligentsia who are placing them at heights they themselves cannot achieve if they are to rely only on their weak plastic power.

And what of this “Filipino people”? This is what I propose: that the people was given birth and received its death blow in the Philippine Revolution of 1896, beyond which the people exist merely as an abstraction nothing more and nothing better than the text inside any document. Truly, the Filipino is a modern concept in that it enjoyed its becoming in art and religion, in pain and sorrow, in misery and celebration-that is, in experience and in life-only to be buried because of an excess of a sense of history, the sense of community, the provincial sense, the sense of origin-that is, the sense of “from which I came from”. Henceforth, it became post-modern: “there is nothing outside the text”.

The saints of the Absolute Spirit, for that is what our greybeards are, wanted the youth to understand that they are part of a whole and part of a system. History is knowing which part you should be in and what role you should play: understanding the present depends on knowing the past. A noble premise if the end of life is mere episteme, although it appears now that episteme itself is ending life. Is this why we learn history? To know? And if indeed we know, or grant that we now know all there is to know about the past, what then? The saintly greybeards may suggest: so that we can have historical conferences, wherein we can marvel at our own magnificence and bathe in the glory of having an excess of history: that we can hide from the terrible sound of the superabundance of meaning in modern life: that we can put up landmarks and other marks-monuments for the dead by the gradually dying: that we can gossip on past glories as we surmise the very absence of history in our midst despite an excess of history in our cockroach-stricken tomes.

Perhaps Nietzsche was right after all: history in excess has become a form of egoism. The pride of the historian, albeit a pride born of the feeling that one is lost in the matrix of so much history. What is this excess then? This I consider true: that history should be given horizon by the consciousness of experience and the consciousness of the evolution of one’s life, and anything beyond that horizon is excessive. There is no point in remembering everything much more to suggest that memories comprise a world process–a world historical system. However, the youth was made to feel that historical knowledge is such and such a course, complete as far as significance goes, a system limited only by the margins of a textbook and contained within its front and back cover-the educator of history is a mere instrument for the production of its sound. This is the history that you must learn. This is the history you must understand. This is the history you must put in your own memory whether your experience warrants it or not. After all, knowledge is universal and objective and an excess of knowledge is better than little knowledge. The will to a system is indeed a decadent will.

However, is it not equally true that a glutton is tempted to immobility because of excesses? That in gulping too much knowledge, one is reduced to doing nothing? Is not this “gulping” a product of having fashioned history for the general consumption of the public on one hand and the historians’ egoism for the craft on the other? Take for example the notion of objectivity in history. In the quest for the episteme, historiography, method and its product knowledge supersedes any purpose for history. Historicism! The cry of the oppressed! Contrary to the subjectivity of history in the service of life, the notion that history should be objective is a subjectivity out of a modern historian totally divided within himself like a house ready to fall; for such history can only be a product of the inability for judgment-that is, of weakness. And history is not for the weak, within which the rabble and the mass man is devoured to stillness–eyes blinking–like an observer devoid of the actual human condition buried in the abstractions caused by his imagination. An objective historian is like a eunuch, for those who can no longer fill history with subjects cannot but be content with watching history pass by, just like a eunuch who merely watches in pain without the balls to create life-or a glutton who sits idly in the garden of contentment: his craving only for the next gulping session. Thus, the historical sense of the saints and their disciples reduced historians to mere servants of the world spirit continually offering new historical knowledge and continually tweaking historiography hopefully towards perfection. The youth, the younger generation, are being trained to follow and obey the educators of history. I say instead: if the youth are really to become the hope of the motherland, they must be taught the value of being unhistorical as opposed to the overly historical. Unhistorical? Preposterous! Any kind of man or tribe possess history: it is just a matter of differences in presentation. No! Now, that is preposterous. Let the youth exclaim as Nietzsche did: the will to a system is a decadent will!

The unhistorical is always in a position to gladly exercise his plastic power. Unlike modern man, he does not suffer the duality of internal-external, and always see the completeness of knowledge and wisdom: to the unhistorical there is no difference between knowledge and wisdom simply because there is no duality. Internally most modern man is subject to the tyranny of a higher purpose-call it God, humanism or even militant atheism-within which he finds comfort. Externally most of these modern man suffer the open-endedness of modern life-the loss of meaning, the emerging immorality, the chaos of our age. It is in this simultaneous giving birth and destruction of meaning, like that of the Filipino people, in modern life that modern man felt terrified as Eliade may say. This terror placed historical man like a turtle wrapped within its own shell to protect itself from the “terror of history” and concentrate not on the mission of history towards giving power to life, but on the means in which this is achieved, reducing him to inaction. Modern man looks at his experience, interprets it based on a text (on texts!), affirms an action, declares the historical nature of it as manifested in his historical knowledge as the action enters into historiography: the action becomes subject to analysis after analysis after analysis (ad nauseam) until egoism becomes obvious. The Higaunon in Iligan City, at least those who remain traditional, weighs experience, interprets it based on the evolution of their lives and culture, decides an action, and the action becomes-in the eyes of historians-history-as-event. Never underestimate the vital life force of the unhistorical: by teaching the indigenous peoples our kind of history, we also implant in their culture that egoism of the modern age and time will tell if such an egoism can produce an “other” in the minds of the indigenous peoples or they too will become victims of the weaknesses of modern man. Our indigenous people have no need for our decadence.

In closing, why indeed are we studying history? Is it presumptuous to say that history beyond the service of life is nothing more than useless babbling? I mimic Nietzsche: just as anything in excess in this world is injurious to life, an excess of history is not exempted. Life is the structural foundation of history, without which history is meaningless. To the youth and youth at heart, I speak to you for you are the hope of this country, find in history the force of will that can inspire you to be someone great-not great in the sense of the rabble and the masses, not Constantino’s “bubble in the flood”, but in wielding the strength that your plastic power may understand when to stop studying history and when to create one. Let the antiquarian in you learn to preserve what is meant for you to preserve and the critical in you to let go what should be forgotten. History is not history if one cannot learn to forget. The study of history is not just about remembering the past, it is also learning to forget-to know what it means to be historical and to experience what it is to be unhistorical. In the end, it is in knowing not simply how to write history but in knowing how to create one that makes history a worthy engagement.


Source by Artchil C Daug