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pantodragon

Are academics able to interpret history?

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The above question was prompted after listening to a radio programme (Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time) in which academics were discussing Japanese history. The academics were so out of touch with the reality of life, that I incline to a negative response. In short, academics are so spaced out by living in their ivory towers that they have forgotten what it is like to be a real person with a real person’s responses to the world about them.

The programme was discussing a period in history from around 1600 to 1850 during which Japan cut itself off from the world: it became isolationist. The historians, as usual, were unable to offer any insight as to why the Japanese shut their doors on the world. They muttered something vague and insubstantial about “anarchy” and then quickly moved on to surer (for them) territory.

Well, here’s my suggestion as to why the Japanese got p***ed off with the rest of the world: they did what I do when door-to-door salesmen try to inveigle their way into my house, when under attack from those persistent sales phonecalls and so on --- I slam the door shut and take the phone off the hook. Knowing that if they can’t get through my door, they’ll be down my chimney, I even block the chimney to keep the beggars out!

Japan was under assault by door- to-door salesmen e.g. the Dutch, the British, the Jesuits and anyone else who was trying to get a toe in the Japanese door through trade or missionary zeal. The new Japanese rulers turfed them out, insisting that its population also refrain from contact with foreigners. Apparently the Dutch were allowed to stay on an island off Nagasaki because they were protestant and didn’t have missionaries --- in other words, the Japanese tolerated the Dutch because they didn’t use such aggressive sales techniques as the other nationalities. The Japanese also used the Dutch to provide them with reports on what was going on in the outside world, just as, even though I “repel all boarders”, I still listen to the radio etc. But it is on my terms that I keep in touch with the outside world, not on its.

So, this is the trouble with historians/academics. They have forgotten what it is like to be human, forgotten what it is to be concerned with the daily minutiae of life. They create fancy theories about “anarchy” to explain Japanese behaviour, when in reality the Japanese were more likely responding to, and dealing with, the tedious problems that life besets us with.

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I have to agree with you. Academica politicans and most celebrities. I think they all have basically lost touch with the rest of the world.

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I recall a book, The Etiology of Dirty Words (I think), where the (academic) author explains the expression "scared s--tless" as analogizing the low value of fecal material with the similar low value of a panicked individual. To be fair, he was probably an English prof and not a physiologist. He certainly wasn't a combat veteran.

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I have raised this issue on several other forums: it is such a relief that, for once, the point I have been trying to make has been picked up and understood!

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We must all, then, bow to your superior intellect, because you know far more about anything than any of the rest of us do. :nw: :nw: :nw:

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So, this is the trouble with historians/academics. They have forgotten what it is like to be human, forgotten what it is to be concerned with the daily minutiae of life. They create fancy theories about “anarchy” to explain Japanese behaviour, when in reality the Japanese were more likely responding to, and dealing with, the tedious problems that life besets us with.

So you're lumping all "academics" together simply because of a radio show you heard; and of course your insight is much greater than someone who's studied a subject their entire professional lives.

We know very well why Japan closed its doors, and this is just another example of you not liking how academia works. Really really tenuous.

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We must all, then, bow to your superior intellect, because you know far more about anything than any of the rest of us do. :nw: :nw: :nw:

No, I would not say that I KNOW far more about anything than the rest of you, not to mention the academic world. I do, however, UNDERSTAND more than any of the rest of you. :blush:

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So you're lumping all "academics" together simply because of a radio show you heard; and of course your insight is much greater than someone who's studied a subject their entire professional lives.

Don't be absurd! Understanding comes with experience, and I've had a great deal of experience of all sorts of things in my life. As to academics, I know the type. I only needed to see about 3 sheep before I learned to identify the animal. Similarly, academics are a "type".

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Posted (edited)

No, I would not say that I KNOW far more about anything than the rest of you, not to mention the academic world. I do, however, UNDERSTAND more than any of the rest of you. :blush:

Aaaaahhh.....Now I'm on to you! You're Dr.Sheldon Cooper, aren't you?

sheldon_cooper.jpg

'Attempting to explode the feeble mind of an historian!'

Edited by ealdwita

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Pantodragon,

I think you have presented a very interesting alternate theory on the self-imposed isolation of Japan. Which might have prompted a flurry of discussion and alternate theories along with more information. I certainly would have welcomed a discussion on the subject. The problem though was that you lumped all academics together in a rather unflattering light. Discussion over. Maybe that was your plan all along?

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Being an academic does not exclude someone from also having life experience. Conducting research correctly and having to use sources to back up your arguments does not make you lee human. I feel you are placing academics together as one group with one nature which is simply not the case. Do you really think no historian has had your experience of door to door evangelists? Do you think they all live under a rock? The difference between an idea suggested on a forum and an academic paper is that the latter can not rest upon a personal anecdote but on relevant evidence. There are some things where the evidence is limited to a degree where we may never know what actually happened and historians are well aware of this. An admission of a gap in historical data is not a bad thing. I think you will find that academia is not sat in an ivory tower detached from the world. The ability to study sources and think critically I feel actually makes you more in touch with the intricacies of human nature and doing so does not exclude you from other interactions and experiences.

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Aaaaahhh.....Now I'm on to you! You're Dr.Sheldon Cooper, aren't you?

sheldon_cooper.jpg

'Attempting to explode the feeble mind of an historian!'

You insult me!

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I recall a book, The Etiology of Dirty Words (I think), where the (academic) author explains the expression "scared s--tless" as analogizing the low value of fecal material with the similar low value of a panicked individual. To be fair, he was probably an English prof and not a physiologist. He certainly wasn't a combat veteran.

I hope you don't mind, but, as I have raised tghis topic in another forum, and as further explanation was necessary, and as this expresses what I meant so very well, I quoted it.

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I hope you don't mind, but, as I have raised tghis topic in another forum, and as further explanation was necessary, and as this expresses what I meant so very well, I quoted it.

Feel free.

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What "academic" would state anything other than the fact that Japan entered its period of isolation due to a need to preserve their own culture (Mormons would fit better than door-to-door salesmen as an analogy)? It's common knowledge. It's also the reason the Dutch were allowed to continue trade; they were much less likely to push their beliefs on other peoples or cause military conflict. Something very similar occurred in North America with the Native Americans and Dutch. So, yes, you are partially right, but one instance of "academics" being wrong is a poor reasoning to believe that they are all wrong. Ever heard of hasty generalization? It's something you should have learned in English class.

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I did not invent the phrase “living in their ivory towers” as applied to academics. It is, therefore, a truth universally acknowledged that academics are out of touch with real life.

Furthermore, the life of the academic has many similarities to that of the monk, and certainly there were times when one might have been hard put to distinguish between them. Where a monk or nun devoted his/her life to the service of god, in deliberate isolation, the academic devoted his life to his chosen discipline, in isolation. Even today many academics still live on campus and it wasn’t that long ago that Oxford or Cambridge dons were not permitted to marry. The academic life is not one which engages with the outside world, but is divorced from it.

In fact, successful academics are so isolated that they have become institutionalized. (The unsuccessful don’t count in this context because their work does not see the light of day.) In other words, they are told what to think and what to do and how to do it. This is the “discipline” of academia. It brings to mind the film Shawshank Redemption, set in a US prison. One of the long term inmates, Brooks, is paroled. Having been inside for 50 years, he has become highly institutionalized. Brooks is afraid of his impending release, fearing that he will be unable to cope with freedom. As another inmate observes, inside prison Brooks is an important man, an educated man, a man who has earned respect and a position within that society, whereas outside, all he will be is a “used-up con with arthritis in both hands”. In the end, Brooks’ fears are realized; he cannot cope outside prison and commits suicide. Academics are no more able to cope with the real world than Brooks, even if they wanted to.

Another point worth mentioning is that scientists/academics generally acknowledge that they have a 5 year creative lifespan --- any important work they do is done within 5 years of graduation. After that, they go into teaching or management, (the most successful spending their time writing books and doing the rounds of the tv/radio chat shows to advertise themselves). The point here is that an academic’s creative work is done when the person is too young to have any significant experience of life.

As to” personal anecdote” versus “relevant evidence” (tipsy_munchkin), I am further reminded of Shawshank Redemption. Although innocent of the crime, Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife. There were no witnesses to the murder. The “relevant evidence” used to convict him comprised his footprints, fingerprints on his empty whiskey bottle, and his car’s tyre tracks, all near the scene of the crime. That his gun was not recovered from the river where he later threw it is also used as evidence against him, as is his calm demeanour in court, and his words said in the heat of the moment to his wife when they had a fight. This illustrates exactly the type of hogwash masquerading as “evidence”, the 2+2=5 mentality that academics use to back their theories.

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What "academic" would state anything other than the fact that Japan entered its period of isolation due to a need to preserve their own culture (Mormons would fit better than door-to-door salesmen as an analogy)? It's common knowledge. It's also the reason the Dutch were allowed to continue trade; they were much less likely to push their beliefs on other peoples or cause military conflict. Something very similar occurred in North America with the Native Americans and Dutch. So, yes, you are partially right, but one instance of "academics" being wrong is a poor reasoning to believe that they are all wrong. Ever heard of hasty generalization? It's something you should have learned in English class.

I do not slam the door on door-to-door salesmen to preserve my culture, but to preserve my sanity, to preserve my self-respect, to preserve my privacy and because they are seedy, foul-minded and disgusting and just bring their filth into my house if I let them, so it is also a matter of cleanliness. And by the way, Mormons are also objectionable, but they are WELL outclassed by door-to-door salesmen in the depths to which they will sink. So yes, academics will give the bland, mechanical interpretation that it was to preserve their culture, but I give the human interpretation.

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Just out of curiousity, do you frequently interact with "academics" and are your observations based on personal experience?

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It depends on the academic. Good historians appreciate the context of place and time when they evaluate events and people from the past. For instance, they realize that Caesar isn't a young man from the suburbs of the modern American Midwest. Most of us have a tendency to see world history from just our own perspectives.

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Just out of curiousity, do you frequently interact with "academics" and are your observations based on personal experience?

"Yes" to both.

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Posted (edited)

. For instance, they realize that Caesar isn't a young man from the suburbs of the modern American Midwest.

I once heard a bevy of academics discussing Goethe's life and in particular his panchant for careering around the countryside near Weimar on horseback with his friends. They worked out that he had some high falutin' ideals driving him. Wrong. He was a lad doing what lads do. Today they do it on cars or motorbikes, not horses.

Acadenics fail to realise that Ceasar WAS a young man from the suburbs of the modern American Midwest --- lads will be lads and have been lads for thousands of years. Why did Alexander career round half the world with his hooligan band of soldiers fighting and conquering --- he was having a whale of a time doing what lads love to do. Nothing noble or great there.

Anyone who understands human nature can see as clear as clear can be what is going on and how history is a record of lads going on the rampage, lads out of control.

Edited by pantodragon

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I once heard a bevy of academics discussing Goethe's life and in particular his panchant for careering around the countryside near Weimar on horseback with his friends. They worked out that he had some high falutin' ideals driving him. Wrong. He was a lad doing what lads do. Today they do it on cars or motorbikes, not horses.

Acadenics fail to realise that Ceasar WAS a young man from the suburbs of the modern American Midwest --- lads will be lads and have been lads for thousands of years. Why did Alexander career round half the world with his hooligan band of soldiers fighting and conquering --- he was having a whale of a time doing what lads love to do. Nothing noble or great there.

Anyone who understands human nature can see as clear as clear can be what is going on and how history is a record of lads going on the rampage, lads out of control.

You evidently missed my point. I might not have been clear. My point was that we shouldn't judge historical events and historical people by our modern standards. Their lives were much different. They had beliefs and cultures that were shaped by the times in which they lived. They saw that as their reality, and that was all they knew. That's the context that explained their actions, some of which seemed horrid by today's standards. To *your* point, of course, they shared many of our traits too.

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Last year an archaeologist found a 500 year old Chinese coin in the Yukon. He announced to the world that this might provide evidence that the Chinese explored and or had trade contact with North American 1st nations, 500 years ago.

Personally I've found about a dozen of these coins doing restoration work on a local Chinese ghost town. The Chinese miners kept these old coins as good luck talismans/promises to their anscestors and they were all 250 to 700 years old. Sometimes they lost them.

Why the archaeologist from last year came out with his theory in public, I don't know (maybe prompted by other interests). If he would have asked around, dozens of laymen (like myself) or other archaeologists, or Chinese cultural historians (i.e. academics) could have set him straight.

But because of the mistake of one academic, I wouldn't burn the whole house down.

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Anyone who understands human nature can see as clear as clear can be what is going on and how history is a record of lads going on the rampage, lads out of control.

The difference being that some choose to study what drives human nature, whereas you are satisfied to believe that human nature is a drive all by itself. Similarly, you are satisfied to believe that human nature remains constant regardless of cultural influence, where some believe that neither human nature nor environment reign supreme, but rather that both influence each other in radical ways.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having your own opinions on subjects. It is a mistake, however, to automatically assume that your opinions are correct. It is yet another layer of wrong to use these assumptions of accuracy as evidence that academics are incorrect on the issues.

That's without taking into account defining "academics" in such a limited way so as to create a single set fitting directly into your description of them.

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Posted (edited)

When looking at historiography you will quickly find yourself swamped with many theories about any given topic. I find it hard to believe you are familiar with all these debates to such an extent you can assert that all academics do not have a valid argument and furthermore that you have the correct insight. I think further reading may open you up to a wealth of ideas about history which are constantly being developed. The assertions you have made in this thread show a lack of detailed knowledge of the contexts. It is fine to look to common traits of human nature in looking at the past but this cannot be done without also understanding things like the cultural norms of the period. I think this is somewhat similar to the distinction detective was trying to make.

Edit to add.. It is actually difficult to find a valid argument on most topics that has not already been addressed within academic literature.

Edited by tipsy_munchkin

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