Does history just keep repeating itself or does your vote really matter?

So, does history repeat itself and is Heraclitus wrong when he says that “we never step in the same river twice?” There seems to be considerable evidence on both sides. Santayana said that: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” and Hegel said that: “What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Both Hegel and Santayana imply that history keeps repeating itself because of the folly of humans. We do not learn from putting our hand in the fire so we keep getting burned when we put our hand back in the fire. The constant wars between people would seem to validate this rather negative view of humans.

A good friend of mine had a sign over his desk that read: “There are no mistakes, only lessons to be learned.” I loved his optimistic and hopeful view that we can learn from our mistakes and continue to see life as one big school. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of people who do not want to go to school or who think that once they have finished school, they never need pick up a book again. Marx once said that “religion was the opiate of the masses.” Today, it seems that sports are the opiate of the masses.

Millions of people watch TV daily to view basketball, soccer, football, golf, tennis, hockey, baseball, and now NASCAR racing. How many of these same people will watch any political debates, documentaries, The History Channel or take a class again in some new subject or language? How many will care enough to learn about the politicians who make decisions over their lives. How many will bother to learn the “statistics” of the candidates the same way they learn the stats on their favorite players? We complain about our politicians as being unreliable and weak, but how many of us blame ourselves for the government we get? I once heard it said that “people get the government they deserve.” If most of us would rather watch the latest football game, should we really condemn the mediocrity of the politicians we elect? My students tell me that “sports are more interesting then the debates.” They fail to understand the long term significance of their input into the political system. I am sure you have heard people who say “my vote really does not matter.”

I like the thought that you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. You may not agree with the Occupiers, but at least they are trying to be part of a solution. What have you done lately to take part in your government? How much effort do you spend on learning about the people running for office? Do you spend money on campaign contributions or do you just let the “big shots” fund the candidates? What are you doing to help stop history from repeating itself?

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Nov 06, 2011 @ 14:45:31

    Marx did say that religion was the opiate of the masses, but he continued on to say that “it is the heart of a heartless world”. As I see it, he wasn't criticizing religion, but praising it. After all, opium was probably the most powerful medicine available in Max's day.

    Religion gives meaning to our lives, a sense of connection to some larger whole. So do politics and sports, in their own ways. all three both complement and compete with each other in this task of lifting us up out of ourselves. Maybe they are all equally real (of equally illusory). Maybe its a problem that we, most of us, need to be “lifted up” because we feel unworthy to just exist as what we are.

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  2. John Persico
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 13:55:21

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. John Persico
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 13:58:40

    mm, I had never heard Marx's quote interpreted that way. I really do not see any meaning to sports when they are simply a spectator activity and the correlation between viewing and obesity, while certainly not cause and effect seems to me a rather logical outcome of sitting rather than doing. Millions of people are now obese in this country and the obsession with youth sports, college sports and pro sports are ubiquitous and yet less than 4 percent of Americans participate in any of the three categories. We have made sports so elitist that the majority of people are now observers rather than players. Only 1.6 percent of HS school athletes will get a college scholarship. Maybe we should be focusing our lives more on what really matters. I want my grandsons to spend more time on art and nature and living than simply watching the idiot box.

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  4. bgalbreath
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 16:59:24

    The key question is “what really matters?” I agree with your priorities, but what I was trying to say was that religion, sports, politics (and you can throw in celebrity worship and art in general) all promise (and sometimes deliver) transcendent experiences, things that seem to lift us up out of the humdrum of everyday life. To some, the seeming peak experiences of seeing an outstanding athletic play or getting caught up in a victorious political campaign, even as an observer are what is most important to them, what they will spend the most time and attention on. Whether having those priorities says something good about us or bad is a different question. The urge for transcendence itself seems ineradicable, but even that urge may not be a good thing. It seems to rest on the assumption that our ordinary, everyday lives are not good enough. Since we spend almost all our time in non-transcendent experience, does that imply that most of our time, most of our lives, is lacking, or even worthless?

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