History should never be a narrative. Splattered all over the media, it is writing and rewriting what happened in the past and what is happening today, displaying indifference and uncertainty.
Once it was considered a science, written and studied scientifically, in conjunction with other serious sciences, a field of chosen specialty in advanced studies.
There was no competition in the past; only the serious historian, studying, reviewing, comparing, calculating dates and events, dedicating months if not years, before a tour de force, such as The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, came to be. Even then, after three years of passionate hard labour, his classic had its few detractors.
The task of the historian is not to tell a story, to satisfy our curiosity, but to pursue facts and seek the truth. How can a modern historian be entrusted with such a mission?
Our world has become a cacophony of discord, a jarring jangle of disparity and discrepancy. A million ideas, versions and accounts on TV, Facebook, Twitter, the press and on and on create a veritable madhouse for us.
Where does the truth lie? At the bottom of the ocean? But no matter how deep you dive you only come up with half-truths, no truths or outright lies, leaving the public befuddled and bewildered.
Why have we reached such a regretful predicament? Could it be that our present-day society likes it? Why do we not discard all the social media that occupies us body and soul, day and night? Could it be that we, ourselves are also made of the same fake stuff?
Are we not latent actors playing different parts as the situation warrants? Do we not cry as babies for attention, even when we are neither hungry nor uncomfortable? Within four months of our birth we learn to manipulate our caretakers into giving us attention, holding us, coo-cooing us.
As we grow older, we smile, laugh, praise whenever it is beneficial for us. We play different roles at home, at the office, in sports, or with the boss. In a sense, we lie.
It is a phenomenon found in every profession, even in religion.
If taken to extreme, in this cruel social environment, it can develop into a psychosis, such as narcissism or imposture. Mr. Ripley is one example of an impostor. The wicked queen of Snow White is undoubtedly a narcissist.
Admittedly, we all possess a little, just a little of similar traits. How we wish to blow our horns once in a while, or brag about our travels, experiences, connections, but most of us are more measured in our behaviour.
We too wish to be praised, admired, put on a pedestal by our peers.
Most of us do not succeed.
Politicians do. They are the worst of the lot among lawyers, businessmen, gangsters, academicians, scientists and men of religion. Yes indeed, they have egos as big as a house and they are all guilty of lying. They need the adoration of the crowds. They need the power they yield.
Lying is a sin, in all religions, yet politicians lie constantly. What is worse, they are aware that they are lying and it is no hindrance.
Consider all the promises the American president made during his campaign. He never meant them and proved it only a few hours after his inauguration. It is unconscionable, and we have a name for it: hypocrisy.
Is this the historic account of our times? What will our children and grandchildren think of us? A bunch of hypocrites, or will it be edited, embellished, and concealed?
The amount and variety of historic sources is lamentable. No one is after the truth.
True historian would reclaim authenticity. What we have are novelists who make up their own versions, plots and scenarios.
The sense of responsibility for the truth is fading and we are allowing it. According to Pew Research, over 90 per cent find politicians dishonest, still they vote for them. Bill Clinton was elected twice after his shameful scandals.
This speaks volumes about us too. We know politicians lie, it is essential for them. Do we simply have no choice? Do honest men shun politics? Pray tell us what profession does not require at least a white lie.
Considered the once revered newspaper, read from cover to cover, as our only source of news. Circulation has dropped drastically, it’s all on YouTube.
Historically, this deviation started during WWII when propaganda replaced news, turning villains into heroes.
Once an idea is implanted in the public mind, it is hard to remove. Only eight per cent describe politicians as being honest. Yet, deception works, because we, honest folk, accept deceit.
Should we not rise in unison and boycott false sources of information, such as Facebook, until they mend their ways?
Have we already lost sight of “the evil that men do”, of biological warfare, man-made diseases and experimental viruses?
Was the Iraq war trumped up? Do we really know the whole truth about Syria?
In his recent book Political Hypocrisy David Runciman asks “What kind of hypocrite should voters choose as their next leader?” Shame on them. Shame on us?
What will future generations think of us?
With truth regularly concealed by historians, perhaps they should seek another profession.
If two books are written about the same subject that are contradictory, one of them is lying, or both.
Give back history its dignity.
“Truth is the only merit that gives dignity and worth to history.”
Lord Acton (1834-1902)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.