Employed by History

In earlier posts (such as this here, here, or here) I played with some ideas about how to see my place in history with the overarching description of being an employee of history.

To summarize:

  • Science is divided into two areas: present-tense science focused on collecting observations and affecting events, and past-tense science that examines the historical record to come up with some understanding of what happened.
  • The present is the current instant where we have influence on nature and then whatever happens becomes property of history.
  • Outside of the present instant, all of history is a one-dimensional line of historical records.   The records are left behind to be read but not changed.
  • One can take seriously consideration of his actions in terms of what how it will be recorded in history.   A careful decision-maker looks at available options and hopes that the one he adds to the record of history is the one with the best outcomes.  He hopes he will not regret the options he assigns to missed opportunities.   In short, he feels that history will evaluate him.
  • I then compared that to being an employee of a corporation.  A corporation absorbs all of the contributions of its employees and can use that information to evaluate the employee.   However at the instant of doing work, the corporation is at the mercy of whatever the employee decides to do.   Like history, the corporation has no direct agency outside of its immediate employees.

So instead of thinking of history as something to study, there is the option of thinking of history as ones employer.  Taking history seriously is to know that ones actions will become the property of history and that property in the form of historical record can be used to evaluate the person.    In the same way that a corporation relies on other actors in the roles of supervisors, managers, or human resources to evaluate the record and to perform remedial actions, history relies on other people to look at the record and then make judgement and act accordingly.

I also answered this notion with the opinion that we have the choice of whether we want to take history seriously or not.   If we take it seriously we are the employees of history.  A reasonable choice in life is to live completely in the moment.  An example of living in the moment is to concentrate entirely on relationships with others.    Every action still gets recorded in history, but this fact is not a factor in considering actions to take.

A possible analogy is the current plethora of commercial companies offering social-networking services on the Internet.  Consider the example of a service like WordPress.   WordPress has some staff who work deliberately to keep the service running and to keep it commercially competitive.   These direct employees may be evaluated by their skill in advancing the service.   Meanwhile there are the contributors such as myself who is focused solely on my relationships in the form of producing content.   I’m quite content to use the service but I’m essentially taking it for granted.   Even though I’m ignoring it, I’m contributing to the service.  My content is being added to their servers and part of the pool of “freshly pressed” content that the service uses to advance their service.   Whether I think about it or not, I’m adding to their service.

This is an analogy of our choices in living real life.   Whether we pay attention or not, our actions will inevitably be captured in history (perhaps in ways that will be hard to trace back to you).   We can be super cautious about picking and choosing our actions for the historical record that will have the best possible chances of being evaluated in our favor.   Alternatively, we need not care at all.

However we feel about history, history is universally interested in us.   Everything we do becomes part of the record.  That record then becomes available for others to interpret.    Consider any criminal court case where the record is used to reconstruct not just the events but the background of the events.  At the time, completely spontaneously non-contemplated actions can be used to build a case for either side in the dispute.   We don’t have to be careful but everything we do inevitably becomes an indelible record in history’s possession.

The nature of being an employee of history is changing.   Again an employee is one who carefully studies history with the intention to adding to history events that will be evaluated most favorably toward him.

In the past, his job dealt with history that is largely inaccessible or difficult to interpret.  He realized that his interpretation of history is subject to debate and that future historian’s interpretation of his actions will also be subject to debate.

But with newer technologies of more intrusive data collection and long term retention of easily readable data, the game of the history employee is changing.   When interpreting history, the historian will more readily accept recorded data as relevant to his interpretations.   When considering options, the decision-maker is aware his actions will be more easily traced.

For any particular event, the decision-maker and the interpreter are two different people.   The decision maker has more reason to be cautious toward the point of paranoia.   The interpreter has more reason to rush to a judgment based on the recorded data.

I write this primary in context of understanding how to live life in context of history if one chooses to take history seriously.   I base most of my thinking on what it was like earlier when historical record was spotty and hard to read.   Interpreters of history were diligent in their research and their checking of results of peers.  Decision makers were cautious for event outcomes with some appreciation of the ambiguity that will be available for future interpreters.

The historical-record technology is changing perhaps too fast for history-employees to keep up.   Perhaps this is another analogy to corporate employees who are similarly challenged to keep up with their technologies.

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One thought on “Employed by History

  1. Pingback: Improving government with frequently updated laws: rule by data | kenneumeister

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