“Right (or Wrong) Side” of History? — Part I

Two of the most overused, misused and abused phrases currently in vogue are “common sense” and the “wrong (or right) side of history”. Both phrases, while possibly innately innocuous, are now used in contexts that render them malignant.

While Common Sense is now usually being used to imply a solution or answer that ought to be obviously correct, still one person’s Common Sense is another person’s sophistry. Worse though is the aspersion that a person who does not perceive the obvious truth of a solution must be stupid, immoral or corrupt, or a combination of these faults. Consequently, while proposing solutions dictated by Common Sense is ostensibly for the purpose of optimizing the volume of support, it tends to incite conflict rather than collaboration.  Thus it is most clearly not common sense to employ a rationale of Common Sense in an effort to persuade adoption of one’s position.

While perhaps not as irritating, the “wrong (or right) side of history” phrase possesses the potential of — and can be anticipated to almost always inflict — the vastly-greater pernicious effect. For, first, it implies an innate certainty: a present development or condition (either conceptual or tangible) linked in a direct relationship to an overt inevitability. Moreover, second, it is subject to a fatal defect and error: it assumes the progress (a word itself perceived to be endowed with a subjective sense that is questionable) of history is consistent, continuous and positive — despite the evidence that the vector of much, if not most, change is in a negative direction. If historical change results in deterioration, do we really want to be on the side of corruption?

The proper mechanics for analysis is not a prognostication of the misty course of future events, isolated from their meritorious significance. Rather it should consist of an analysis of the virtue and value of an outcome, and whether it then is a sufficient improvement justifying a conscious and persistent effort to attain it, not simply a condition projected to occur in the absence of any effort to obstruct it or substitute another outcome for it. Might it not then be a reasonable proposition that: If an outcome does not require a conscious, intentional and exacting design, implemented by substantial effort, to attain it, then it generally should be avoided and prevented? For, if a condition develops in the natural course without deliberate guidance — a state that might be properly designated as accidental, not purposeful — can it not generally be concluded that it proceeds from sloth, obtuseness, cupidity, corruption, or another like baser human instinct?

I would respectfully tender that numerous examples, parallel metaphors and extrapolations abound to support this harsh assessment of our fecklessness in prescience of history’s direction, and the superiority of using righteousness instead as the guide. I will however reserve addressing these for Part II of this essay.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
11 May 2015

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