The quote "People who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it" is one of those well-known proverbs that contain a great wisdom. Although its exact origin has not been handed down to this day, many have used it with varying degrees of success.
But what exactly does this sentence mean? We will take a journey through the minds of brilliant minds such as Confucius, Freud, Paul Preston and J.D. Nasio undertake to find out, why we humans seem doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them.
"They say that history repeats itself, but the truth is that its lessons are not learned.
The history of peoples
If we look at the history of nations and humanity itself, we find mistakes that are constantly repeated. Although we know how harmful war can be, we remember peoples who have been in constant struggle since the beginning of time without finding solutions.
We also repeatedly find severe economic crises that have plagued our capitalist world for decades. After the dreaded stock market crash of 1929, when millions of people were ruined by speculation and boundless ambition, we repeated the same mistake in 2008. And it does not look like it will be the last time this happens.
At the European level, there were many who tried to dominate the whole old continent. Alexander the Great traveled through Asia and annexed a number of territories. The Romans, Napoleon Bonaparte and even dictator Adolf Hitler tried unsuccessfully.
Why does history keep repeating itself? What causes us to stumble over the same stone again and again and make mistakes to repeat, although we know its senselessness? Is there a rational explanation?
History shows that we stumble over the same stone again and again
The explanation for the lack of human memory for history is not simple, but many people have. Confucius wrote more than 2 years ago.000 years a cautionary tale on this subject:
After Confucius met a woman who was weeping inconsolably because her whole family had been killed by a tiger, he was surprised and asked her why she was still staying in the same place when the tiger was so dangerous. The woman had lost the meaning of her life, but she answered that they had a good government. Whereupon Confucius said to his followers, "A bad government is worse than a dangerous tiger."
Today, in many parts of the world, tyrants still. Have we learned nothing from history? Freud gives two main reasons to explain this: on the one hand, the energy of life, and on the other, the energy of death. He speaks of Eros, the life instinct, and Thanatos, the death instinct:
- Eros is the instinct for self-preservation. Food, sleep, etc. fall under this heading.
- Thanatos leads ushoweverto search for sublime joy, a place where there are no worries, fears or pains. This state can only be achieved through death, so we tend to unconsciously compulsively repeat mistakes in search of absolute well-being.
J.D. Nasio about the compulsion
Also the psychiatrist J.D. Nasio, whose work explores Freud’s teachings on the life instinct and the death instinct, makes a similar argument:
- J.D. Nasio explains that everyone has an unconscious that moves them like a life force that makes them repeat happy behaviors.
- But there is also the death drive, which causes people to unconsciously repeat behaviors that lead to pain, failure, and frustration, and even revive childhood neuroses.
For J.D. Nasio the repetition of infantile neurosis triggers in us a "jouissance" (immediate gratification) that leads us to repeat behaviors that are actually painful. These strong emotions, not anchored in the conscious mind, are isolated in the subconscious, waiting for the best opportunity to emerge.
The importance of history and the sciences
Authors like Paul Preston Emphasize the importance of studying history, to prevent repeating mistakes over and over again. However, this tendency seems to be quite natural and normal for the human brain.
"Perhaps the greatest lesson of history is that no one has learned the lessons of history."
Is there a way to avoid the constant repetition of the same mistakes? It’s not just about knowing the story. We also need to know how we are. Each individual is unique and therefore a world to be discovered.
The study of history and the deep understanding of the human brain on an individual and collective level seem to be prerequisites, to avoid the repetition of mistakes. Are you also of this opinion?