Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

"Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It." Really?

History shows that both those who do not learn history and those who do learn history are doomed to repeat it.


'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.'

The quote is most likely due to writer and philosopher George Santayana, and in its original form it read, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Santayana was known for aphorisms, and for being a professor in philosophy at Harvard which he abandoned. Prior to that, Santayana attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College, where he studied under the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce.

According to Santayana's philosophy, history repeats. The phrasing itself certainly is catchy. It's a big one, not only because it is so common, but also because if it is true and if history, driven by human nature, is ugly (hint: it is), then this saying ought to guide our public and private policy.

 

George Santayana (Sketch artist: Samuel Johnson Woolf)

The sentiment that history repeats aspires to common sense and is hard to disagree with. In the history of the United States and Europe, wars have ended with confiscatory terms of government surrender inevitably breeding more wars. Revolutions, like those in France and Russia, that gave an individual absolute power—Napoleon and Stalin, respectively—inevitably end up as failed empires brutal dictatorships. Even individuals are subject to this advice. Couples who do not learn from their fights break up. People who don’t learn from their mistakes don’t mature.

In the 21st century, specific events in Syria have proven a repeated lessons about civil wars, like the Vietnam war, that when great powers intervene to fight proxy battles, conflict becomes protracted. Incidentally, when Abraham Lincoln governed during the American Civil War, he recognized it was essential to keep out foreign powers like Britain and France.

So it is the ruling of The Proverbial Skeptic that history repeats and the saying is true, but


An impoverished Syrian girl hugs her injured father in the rebel-held town of al-Nashabiyah, east of Damascus, on November 30, 2017. More than 340,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests. (AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images)

But, it doesn’t really have any power. Why? History shows that both those who do not learn history and those who do learn history are doomed to repeat it. If it's also true that those who do learn history are doomed to repeat it, then the saying doesn't really add anything at all.

So is that the case?

After repeated 19th century wars between Germany and France, France still demanded that confiscatory terms of surrender be imposed on Germany after the 20th century's First World War. Then the Second World War happened .

After failing to invest in education and infrastructure in Afghanistan after arming the Mojahadin against the invading Soviet Union in the 80’s, America neglected to make the same investments after later Middle Eastern military campaigns. Then rose The Taliban and Al Qaeda.

After Stalin’s brutal regime of secret police and leader worship, Cuban revolutionaries allowed their charismatic revolutionary leader to seize absolute power. A Castro still holds a seat of dictatorial power in Cuba.

It may be common sense that all of the good things and all of the bad things about people, and the way that we organize ourselves, are simply going to breed patterns as we continue to make history as a species. It may be that we are simply given to a certain irrationality which leads us down paths, some disastrous, again and again.

Santayana also said of human nature, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." Santayana, who famously disagreed with his contemporaries like William James, died in Rome in 1952. After leaving the United States, he became generally critical of American society, though such criticism was separate from his system of philosophy.

Consider what humorist and writer Mark Twain famously said on the matter: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

--

 

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

Masturbation boosts your immune system, helping you fight off infection and illness

Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?

Sexual arousal and orgasm increase the number of white blood cells in the body, making it easier to fight infection and illness.

Image by Yurchanka Siarhei on Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
  • The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
  • Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
Keep reading Show less

The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

The biology of aliens: How much do we know? | Michio Kaku, ...
Videos
  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
Keep reading Show less

Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast