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A Further Perspective   

Much misunderstanding is spared one who takes to heart the tale of the blind men and the elephant. This tale relates how one of the men, who felt its trunk, thought that the elephant resembled a large snake; while another, touching its side, thought it was like a canvas hung on a wall; and a third, feeling its leg, thought it resembled the trunk of a tree.

World history is like this elephant in that it contains parts which are different from one another in shape and theme. Some say that post-Renaissance western civilization represents the highest attainment of man, having given the world's people concepts of democracy, freedom, and human rights in addition to a high level of prosperity. Others point out that representatives of this culture took American lands away from their original inhabitants, enslaved black Africans, polluted the natural environment, and built personal empires through ruthless energy and greed. It may be that both interpretations are correct depending upon which part of the historical animal one grasps.

Historical understanding depends upon recognizing which types of experiences hang together in consistently flowing events and which are unlike them. In other words, it depends upon distinguishing significant patterns. And, if world history is divided into parts, one would want to know about the major pieces - where and when history's turning points occurred and new epochs began.

Many a prophet proclaims the dawning of a new age. Yet, the future has proven to be unpredictable. Given our foolishness about such things, it seems better first to seek a solid grounding in the past where facts can be known with greater certainty. Then, if one wishes, one can move cautiously toward "the lesson of history", seeking parallels between the present and past situations.




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