A challenge for historians | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“The future is certain. It is only the past that is unpredictable.” —old Soviet joke

With the election over, I was ready to take a respite from my modest efforts to help our countrymen choose wisely, which continues to be a daunting uphill challenge.

Fortuitously, several days ago, I came upon a Facebook post from a fact-checking website affirming the veracity of books on martial law, which enumerated the many atrocities committed under the Marcos dictatorship.

Unfortunately, I made the “mistake” of expressing my agreement, saying that despite his almost absolute military and political control, the Filipino people defied the odds and found a peaceful way to oust him from office.

To my great surprise, this simple and forthright comment was immediately met by an avalanche of reactions, a number of which were vicious and unprintably insulting, and most noticeably, laced with historical half-truths and outright falsehoods. These have continued to pour in almost a week after my original post.

I can only conclude that these are coming from trolls trained to post ready-made disparaging retorts to contrary views, and from gullible netizens who have totally bought into those false narratives after being constantly exposed to them over many years. But whichever is the case, the playbook and the convictions that have arisen from it have taken deep root.

Thankfully, there were also concurring reactions to my original post, an encouraging sign that there are still people who continue to be aware of authentic and undisputed historical facts despite the all-out campaign to alter our recent history.

Sad state

As a side observation, I noted that many of the posts in English were grammatically fractured, pointedly reflecting in part the sad state of our educational system. One would expect that if trolls were to be hired, they should at least be vetted for a modicum of proficiency in language for better credibility.

But my main point is that “trolling” is alive and thriving on social media, and based on its proven initial success in advancing political agendas, it will probably be utilized more widely and intensively as a mind-conditioning tool moving forward.

In short, unless it is curbed (and chances are it won’t), it will become a principal weapon of the unscrupulous and unethical in future electoral contests, national or local.

A relatively recent article by Anna Domanska dealing with events in Europe reveals a striking parallel with present events here in our country. Under the subheading, “The Ever Changing Past,” here is what she insightfully said:

“‘The future is certain; it is only the past that is unpredictable.’ This old Soviet joke points out to the authoritarian regime’s habit of editing and airbrushing and controlling the narration over history as the key to political legitimacy. Therefore, the unpredictability of the past is no laughing matter … History is a fluid creature and can easily be contaminated. The temptation to use it for particular ambitions is not exclusive to non-democratic systems. The battle over the narrative is as important and real as the political arguments and armed conflicts. Nowadays, with widely available technology and means of communication, history reveals even more dangerous potentialities.” (sharedhistory.eu)

In our country, the plethora of diametrically opposed versions and interpretations of our recent history, exacerbated in social media, makes it almost impossible for the present generation to glean the truth from the false or the merely specious. In this environment, responsible and respected historians, especially those in academe and those who write our official history books, have to step up to the plate and swing for the fences. It is the ninth inning, the home team (the truth) is losing and nothing short of a home run will get the job done.

Respected historians

We have many eminent and respected historians in our schools and universities, and in media, and like it or not, their influence over their students and the public makes them the front-liners in the battle for our country’s historical integrity.

Two outstanding contemporary historians, who have truly earned the public’s respect for their work, immediately come to mind. Coincidentally, they are both columnists of this newspaper—Ambeth Ocampo, who is widely regarded as a preeminent expert on Philippine history, and Richard Heydarian, who has earned an international reputation for astute political analysis and commentary. Moreover, Heydarian is a versatile communicator, engaging as a social media vlogger to a mainly youthful audience, and as a more formal analyst when addressing international television and academic audiences.

What I am looking for most particularly from all these history experts in our midst, in addition to advocating historical authenticity, is to emphasize the importance of the ethical and moral aspects of sticking to the truth. Advancing a political or social agenda does not exempt anyone from this, and those who cross the line should be called out. When self-serving falsehoods and half-truths are foisted on people, their knowledge and appreciation of their own history becomes warped, and this distorts their sense of national identity.

Lastly, as I pointed out in a previous piece, early guidance from parents as the first educators of their children comes before that of the school or media. This is far more valuable than simply letting their children navigate their way through the maze of contradicting versions of the recent past being peddled by special interest groups all over modern media sites.

In conflict situations, there is a saying that history is written by the victors. This is both harmful and confusing because today’s losers may be tomorrow’s victors, and in turn will advance the opposite of today’s narrative. As I have emphasized earlier, this is precisely why it is important that regardless of who the victors are, there must be people whose “sense of history” is strongly committed to the truth, and who make it their mission to instill this trait in the generations that follow. —Contributed INQ

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