Hideo Kojima

Post­modern thinker Hideo Kojima in 2001 pre­dicted the future. In his classic work “Sons of Liberty,” Kojima depicts a world where media sur­rounds the indi­vidual with con­stantly changing and useless infor­mation, or “junk data.” This junk data drives the indi­vidual to build their own truth and abide by it with slavish devotion.

Kojima writes: “Everyone with­draws into their own small gated com­munity, afraid of a larger forum. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever ‘truth’ suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large.”

I agree with Kojima’s thesis. We live in an era where the com­plete bounds of human knowledge are mere clicks away, where the average person can learn whatever they want in moments. Truth is cheap and con­forms to our whims. As news feeds become increas­ingly par­tisan and jour­nalism frac­tures into spe­cialized sources, two people can believe in two com­pletely dif­ferent and con­flicting truths about the world around them. In the quest to shore up these gated com­mu­nities, every­thing becomes a tool.

Including history.

I under­stand the attraction. History is an easy target. With the entirety of human action to draw from, a savvy researcher can prove almost any­thing. Look no further than Martin Luther King Jr. Every year, news sources from all over the political spectrum depict him in the starkest terms pos­sible. With articles like “Martin Luther King Was a Radical, not a Saint,” from Truth-Out, or “Pseudo-Pacifism: Why Priv­i­leged People Love Quoting MLK,” from Patheos, serving as prime examples.

King becomes a devout Christian, an adul­terer, a mil­itant rev­o­lu­tionary, or a pacifist of the first degree — whatever it takes to align his mission with the mission of the author. Even the Hillsdale Col­legian pub­lished such an opinion, titled “Embrace Rev­erend King, Rev­o­lu­tionary Ideas and All.”

Most his­torical opinion pieces, no matter the source, begin with an opinion. The author hopes to com­mu­nicate what they believe is his­torical truth. The desire often comes from an under­standable place — a wish to inform the public how a his­torical figure or event relates to their views. Then the research begins, with the author scouring the internet and library for quotes or pas­sages that support their claim. They find the quotes, plunk the article out, and send the piece in by deadline. Then they move on to their next project, while their work remains online or in print for the world to see and digest.

While cathartic for the author, the process is intel­lec­tually dis­honest.

Whenever an author begins with an opinion, an objective for their piece, they write poor history. The nuances and details of history — some­thing that requires years of in-depth study to under­stand and apply properly — become obstacles to the opinion.

Dis­honesty stems from the mis­un­der­standing that history con­forms to the current reality. That people who lived 50, 100, or 1000 years ago somehow fought the same battles that we fight today; That Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Otto Von Bis­marck, or Joan of Arc could under­stand or interface with our problems.

Raised in a world where stu­dents view history as a tool for the present, where history teaches us about our lives and how to live them better, the author assumes that the issues they are pas­sionate about have his­torical equiv­a­lents.

History rarely, if ever, pro­vides equiv­a­lents to the current day. Anne Louise Ger­maine de Staël-Hol­stein, a French-speaking Swiss author, once said that “to under­stand every­thing, is to forgive every­thing.” History creates problems for every political ide­ology. By def­i­n­ition, ide­ology requires clear-cut answers to ques­tions. The more history someone reads, the more nuanced their under­standing of a time and place becomes.The lines between the “winners” and “losers” of history blurs and con­ven­tional nar­rative becomes increas­ingly dif­ficult to defend.

The his­torical hit piece shows no interest in fur­thering under­standing. When an author starts with an opinion before writing a piece, their research focuses on making that opinion a reality. The author boils a his­torical figure, whose life and times could take years to under­stand within their context, down to the basest and most par­tisan ele­ments pos­sible. Who the subject really was does not matter; what matters is that this person agreed or dis­agreed with what the author believes. Decades of life, con­densed into a 1,200-word news­paper article.

People should have his­torical opinions, and should debate the minutia and specifics of his­torical issues, but actively dimin­ishing history for the sake of feeling secure in your own worldview con­flicts with the liberal arts tra­dition.

As people con­tinue to wall them­selves into their gated com­mu­nities, doing every­thing they can to establish and defend their own truth, this practice takes on an entirely new level of destructive power. As the author leaves the article steeping in the public eye, moving on to dis­cover the next “hot take,” his words become ammu­nition. With all human knowledge available to them, the average person shirks other options for the sake of the com­fortable one.

The walls of their gated com­munity grow, and his­torical reality becomes increas­ingly blurry. I ask only that writers try to combat this phe­nomenon and treat history with the respect it deserves. Take the time to research before forming an opinion, try not to force history to say some­thing it clearly does not, and interact with scholarly work on each topic. History is only capable of so much. As the gated com­mu­nities con­tinue to grow, the need for non-par­tisan truth becomes increas­ingly important. Try not to become a part of the problem.

Because the alter­native is easy. Very easy.

Take Hideo Kojima for example. He makes video games. The “gated com­mu­nities” passage is from the classic “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.” Kojima made the game in active rebellion against overzealous fans of “Metal Gear Solid,” as well as to comment on post­mod­ernism. He never pre­dicted the future, he just responded to the world around him and the direction he saw it going.

I am guessing you took my words at face value though.

Besides, the truth would have made for a bad intro.

Shadrach Strehle is a junior studying history.