It’s something that often seems to be ignored as we (in our modern information driven world) find ourselves needing to create content more and more quickly.
I don’t know if any of us ever do this intentionally, but in our dopamine-fueled, high information society, it’s so easy for information to be taken out of context to fuel a new outrage. A person has to be incredibly careful to fact check everything they post or re-post, something I’ve certainly failed at from time to time (though I think most of us, if we are being honest, have).
An example of how important it is to have the context surrounding a quote, or statement, is evident in a recent headline by Time magazine.
In an interview with Time magazine, Charles Koch made a statement about his opinion on GDP as a measurement of success, saying, “I think we can have growth rates in excess of 4%. When I’m talking about growth rates, I’m not talking about that GDP, which counts poison gas the same as it counts penicillin,” the 79-year-old industrialist said, veering off his prepared remarks. “What a monstrous measure this is. If we make more bombs, the GDP goes up — particularly if we explode them.”
However, when Time ran the article, rather than using an appropriate headline about Koch’s desire to see $100,000 salaries for all Americans, they used this one: “Charles Koch says U.S. can bomb its way to $100,000 salaries.”
Though Time later changed the headline (apparently at the billionaire’s request) the fact that this quote was taken so out of context and allowed to run can only be attributed to either malice (an intentional slander of those on the “wrong side” or an inability to understand the content of Koch’s words from the author and editorial staff; something that most middle school children, yet to complete expensive degrees in Journalism and English, would likely have been able to do.
The reason why context is so important is that it frames the way we view whatever it is that’s being discussed, whether a quote, or a historical event.
How many times have you heard the Crusades used as a reminder of the atrocities committed by Christians in the past? It is regularly used as an excuse to deflect attention away from the religious underpinnings of one of the driving forces behind Islamic terrorist attacks.
Deflections like this allow the conversation to be switched from one of trying to figure out the best way to stop such things from taking place. It’s a way for one side to release the “pressure switch” and conveniently change the subject away from what’s politically incorrect or difficult to talk about.
Oddly, the lack of knowledge of history causes those who know nothing about history, to use events like the Crusades, slavery, colonization as the basis of an entire “oppressor/oppressed” narrative; one that can be found underlying almost the entirety of the reasoning and narrative of the modern-day left.
I will tackle the history and dangers of this narrative as well as the related identity politics in another article, but the fact that such a lack of contextual historical understanding exists in a movement (the left and intersectional identitarians) that has such a loud, ignorant, and over simplistic opinion on almost every aspect of governance and policy is very dangerous.
The Crusades, rather than being proof of how “religions make us hate each other,” were a response to hundreds of years of Saracen and Muslim invasions of Europe, which were exacerbated when Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands.
In fact, the only people who have any reason to be opposed to the intent of the Crusades are Muslims and Christians. Muslims have a right to be opposed for obvious reasons, but Christians can oppose the tenants of the Crusades only through the lens of calls for non-violence within their faith. Outside of a Christian context, the political and strategic rationale for the Crusades made perfect sense in a time when the fledgling cultures of Europe were facing existential threats from encroaching Muslim armies.
Even in this case, as I write about the Crusades, I am oversimplifying for the sake of time; there is so much involved in these macro events of history that it does take entire books or documentaries to uncover the details. But it’s important to understand the context and the details to understand when the events are being used as manipulators – out of context, by people who often have little understanding of history.
As the famous saying goes, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I believe this is a part of the reason why rhetoric based on identity politics and race has seen such prevalence in our current society. If you look at the rhetoric in the build up to World War 2, in the months and years before the genocide in Rwanda, or in the build up to the Bolshevik uprising in Imperial Russia, you may notice eerie similarities to our current conditions.
Knowing history helps us to understand and compare ideas and their origins to the ideas of the past and their successes and failures. This can give us a guideline to understanding which ideas we should pursue and which have been tried before and come up lacking.