Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Importance of Historical Revisionism


revisionism n. Advocacy of the revision of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine, especially a revision of historical events.

I was given the inspiration to write this piece when I was enlightened to the fact that there are those out there who have such an emotional/academic investment in certain paradigms of thought that they will point an accusing finger and shout “Revisionist!” if one disagrees with them during a historical discussion (rather like waving a check you can’t cash in the air and yelling that it’s good, while others pass you in line to cash theirs), at the unfortunate expense of my coauthor.

I call myself guilty as well. Very much so, in fact. I’m a historical revisionist on many major counts that I do love to discuss. But, there are those out there who think revisionism is a bad thing. Most of us in the reasonable audience, however, would call revisionism an act of learning, almost by definition, and fighting against it an act of voluntary ignorance, when it comes to history. Note that I said reasonable. Within reason is where we keep our revisionism. Unlike extremists, we use good sense and evidence for our revisionism. History is full of politically motivated and fanatical revisionism amounting to outright brainwashing, much of which is actually a major part of current accepted knowledge (take much of the history of Japan, for example). Germany had the same problems during WWII, but thankfully that revisionism didn't stick around.

More to the point, for the most part, my coauthor and I are not technically historical revisionists at all. We are historical re-revisionists. A revisionist isn’t necessarily someone who says that something in history was or wasn’t so, or that it did or didn’t happen. He is more often someone who says that the current paradigm, i.e. the current point of view placed on that prior piece of history is wrong or flawed. It’s often nothing but a matter of perspective on an era or event, not the era or event itself. Our revisionism is on the horribly flawed current paradigm. In such a regard, most great inventors, archaeologists, scientists and philosophers were revisionists because they challenged and changed the views of the time. Darwin was an important revisionist, for example.

I, for example, all but ceased reading history books (and began reading historical books) because of the severe paradigm flaws in current “common knowledge” and academia. The vast majority of our revisionism is actually repair work being done on the last three-hundred years of academic vandalism of our own history. It is because of this vandalism that people think that our ancestors didn’t bathe and that they thought the world was flat; ideas which would never occur to someone who hadn’t read a modern history book. They would absolutely know differently if they read books from the particular period of history which they wanted to study. But things are slowly changing. They are changing due to a revival of educated effort from those who are willing to take a step back from the Victorian and Hollywood paradigm and to look on things with a little sense. Good examples are Madden’s works on the crusades, and Oakeshott’s works on swords.

And of course, one of the most obvious areas of current historical revisionism, which brings us full circle, is within the martial arts. Simply saying “historical European martial arts,” or something similar, is historical revisionism. If it was not for such revisionism, we would still be abiding in thoughts of our brutish ancestors in hundred pound armour bashing each other with thirty-five pound swords until one of them gave in. We would still see the ancient books of martial arts from Europe as collections of tricks and anomalous, disorganized conversation pieces. All of these non-sensical clich├ęs are still being repeated and published by the cream of the university crop today. It is all long-standing historical “fact” that has led to the current paradigm which people in our line of work have to fight tooth and nail against in order to simply be taken seriously, much less to educate anyone and perhaps someday shift that paradigm with our “revisionism,” while obstinates shake their hollow books and empty fists at what we have.

-C

Copyright June 2009, Casper Bradak

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