Context, Context, Context

My sainted mother recently sent me the following :


The worth of a property is in location, location, location.

The meaning of a fact is context, context, context.  Remove the context, the fact is at least misleading.

Every dot on the above maps is, I am confident, correct.  But the context is missing and the impression it leaves, as intended, is a lie.

Where is the plot of US and NATO attacks on Muslim areas?  The CIA-lead overthrows of governments in the ME?

Dates would have been nice.  Seems hardly fair to blame Muslims today for wars past.  If we did that, we would have to give US native Indians a lot of land back, would owe them for a lot of lives.

And also, show the earlier map of Christian conquests of the pagans.  That was not blood-free.

Oh, yes, let us add all of the Christian-Christian battles.  That map will be entirely red.

We should take some of those Muslim attacks on Christians off the map, as the Muslims were allied with Christians leading the attack on other Christians.

Now get a map of trading cities and trade routes, with dates showing the waxing and waning of those.  Add the conquests pre-Islam, e.g. the Chinese invading Iran and Iraq at the time of Mohammad.  Correlate with the later battles.

Once you have all of those different maps, with dates, in front of you, the picture is more of contending kingdoms with cycles of consolidation of power and therefore the appearance of a ‘clash of civilizations’.  Note that both sides used religion as a method of political and social control.

All that can be put into a Muslim vs Christian frame, of course, and both sides did for their own reasons, reasons that changed over time.

Very simple propaganda : make a pinhole small enough, and everything you can see through it is TRUE.

If you want to appreciate the difference between this and the work of real historians, read “Historian’s Fallacies” by David Hackett Fischer.  It could be, should be, the manual for an intelligence analyst.  There are very many ways to go wrong with evidence taken from history.

Pat Buchanan’s book on WWII is a good example.  Journalists select evidence to make a good story, while a historian’s account will include as many contrary bits of evidence and interpretations of events as they can manage.  No question Buchanan’s interpretation has a lot of support, I found the breadth and depth of evidence impressive.  But I know that accepted interpretations of history change continuously as new information comes to light and the pieces of the puzzles are re-fitted.  That is, after all, what Buchanan’s book is, a re-interpretation of what was mostly-accepted history.

Added later : Victor Suvrov’s book is another example. He says that Stalin was going to attack Hitler, but Hitler beat him to the punch by a short time, and that gave Hitler the advantage that cost Russia millions of dead.  That interpretation is not accepted, but it certainly seemed well-reasoned to me, at least as solid as Buchanan’s book.

Historical evidence is everything that isn’t experimental evidence : economics data is historical data, for one normally-ignored example.  You can do correlations on historical data, you can never derive Cause and Effect.  The past does not predict much about the future on a bad day, and you can’t tell what the bad days are until they are history.

At best, historical data can produce plausible narrative based on many correlations, facts that fit together in an interpretation.  Narrative can be convincing, even very convincing.

But it can never be reality-True.  Even experimental evidence has a hard time measuring up to that standard.


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