Saturday, August 24, 2013

Homeland Earth 0 - The history of History

Terre-Patrie 0 - Tierra-Patria 0 - la historia de la Historia

This is the first of a series of essays on Edgar Morin’s “Homeland Earth” [1], and part of my series on The Predicament - and hope- of Mankind.

The title of the prologue of the book - “The history of History” is a recursive play of words so common in Morin’s writing. The chapter condenses in three and a half pages the history of humanity from hunter-gatherer times until “the birth of History”* (Mesopotamia) and on until the start of “the Planetary Era”, when humans began to realize that they live in a finite planet. Morin also follows the development of the science of History from its birth to present time - thus the history of History.

From the birth of History to the 14th century, Humanity’s history is

“the rise, growth, multiplication, and fight to the death of states among themselves... conquest, invasion... battles, ruins, coups and conspiracies... mass subjugation and murder... the spread of power and force: the excessiveness of power...  “;  but also “resistance, revolt, and insurrection... the erection of palaces, temples, grandiose pyramids, the development of technology and the arts and the invention of writing“.

Spanish philosopher Jose Antonio Marina also reflects on this dual tendency of destruction and construction; he poetically writes that we “have exploited metal mines and exploded dynamite mines; created musical and torture instruments; produced both heroin, heroes and heroines” [2]

The short Prologue also introduces some of Morin’s favorite themes in this book and other writings. One is the destruction of so-called primitive cultures by the so-called civilized ones, without first absorbing the wisdom inherent in centuries or millennia of development in the inferior cultures. Humanity’s progress  thus has been, in part, “a progress in parricide”, since civilization emerged from these assassinated cultures. This despising and destruction of the Other, the Different, continues until present times.

Another theme is the relationship between the “order, disorder and organization” inherent in the human mind from which it emerges identical order and disorder in society. How could it be otherwise? Can we possibly escape from it?, asks Morin.

A third theme is the fragmentation of Science into multiple disciplines that do not interact well with each other. In the case of History, the main topic of this chapter, the author calls for an integration of Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology with History. History lags Shakespeare,  who has shown in his historical plays that “the tragedies of history are the tragedies of human passion, excess and blindness”. This full integration would be the last evolution of the history of History, which previously considered only “the foam of contingency” and then gradually started to consider contingency seriously and Ethnography a valid method of historical analysis.

Diverse Histories of eastern and western civilizations begin to communicate with each other from the 15th century as “fruits, vegetables… silk, precious stones, spices, chickens, harnesses, gun powder, paper and printing” are sent from Asia to Europe. The Zero arrives from Arabia. The Viking navigators discover America without knowing it.  Europe is about to discover The Planet. The Planetary Era is about to begin.

Don’t miss the next essay that continues the saga of Humanity between opposing forces of collaboration and autonomy, union and war that mirrors what often happens within families, organizations, countries or all of Earth.


[1] Morin, Edgar & Brigitte Kern. Homeland Earth: a manifesto for the new millenium. Hamptom Press 1999. Excelent translation by Seam M. Kelly and Roger LaPointe of Terre Patrie (1993)

[2] Marina, Jose Antonio. Teoría de la inteligencia creadora. Anagrama 1993.

* Quotations with the text, when not referenced, are from Morin's book