When History just isn’t your History – The “Rosetta” Project.
Posted by intellisg on June 22, 2007
HAVE you ever wondered: why politicians, corporate and even religious leaders rewrite history? Tell me now. Did the Singapore government ever pursue a eugenics program? Was the Shin Corp fiasco entirely the fault of the irrational Thai junta? Were the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus?
See what I mean: the path that leads down to history invariably ends up in a hall of mirrors. Do we really value the truth enough to ensure history remains accurate and a reflection of what really happened? After all the Christians like to say, only “the truth has the power to set you free!” Really? Well on first impressions anyone might be forgiven for assuming that we don’t really care much about the truth and bother even less for those who may choose to regularly gut out reality and substitute it for their own version of the truth. I am serious!
Just look at literature, if you don’t believe me. Did you know, Moby Dick was originally a novel about the serial killing walrus with had a penchant for human meat. Had Melville not switched the titular beast for an albino whale, the yarn might have languished in obscurity today, forgotten by all but a few ardent environmental fundamentalist. Yes re-writing history does serve a purpose: it offers a convenient way of rehashing and re-packaging reality to remain relevant with prevailing times. That’s to say, it’s often re-constituted like potato crisp to make it more palatable for mass consumption. After all didn’t you know the truth kills? What if politicians and corporate honcho’s bare their souls and tell us they have just as much control over the economy as a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo? Where would we be? How would this revelation sit alongside our notions of power and politics? Truth remains, if we really care to take a long look around these days, everyone is into the business of rehashing history – novelist are the worst, often passing off the old as new. Musicians are just contrite, continually lending their own swagger to old scripts and historians are shambolic. Since they keep telling us, “actually this wasn’t what really happened!” while furiously cutting and pasting huge chunks of events which they regularly pass off as humanity’s on going disquisitions Though these erudite lot continue to insist they are merely – “rediscovering” instead of “rewriting history.” How justifiable is this form of tweaking? Does it really add any value to our understanding of the truth? Or is it just plain self-serving white washing?
Well before we dive into the debate. I have something surprising to share: despite all the panic about the truth being white washed, it’s missing a vital ingredient: a genuinely alarmed public. The vast majority of us have already taken to the idea of rewriting history like fish to water – believe it or not! – in more ways that I can possibly recount -thereby acquiescing in part to this would-be-conspiracy, real or imagined. Granted, it may all be occurring at a subconscious level, but have no doubts: It already happening in earnest even as we speak! Our history is being re-written right before us!
While I don’t doubt, from time to time the notion of some political, corporate and religious leader attempting to rewrite history does genuinely cause some of us to jump up and down no end. For example: when the Japanese historical institute keeps insisting the term, “military campaign” is synonymous with “invasion” to describe Japan’s WW II history in China.
In the vast majority of cases most Singaporeans care about history only mainly in the abstract. Sometimes and only very occasionally, a well-informed community unites to voice its concerns and displeasure on topical issues like the ministerial pay rise and the UNSW Asia debacle. But by and large, even as politicians and corporate figures continue to cover a blemish or two by re-writing history: vis-à-vis: layering the truth by glossing over the so the account, most of us remain curiously bovine and indifferent.
If you think, I am just over stating the apathy consider just a handful of examples: was the A*star program supposed to carve out sustainable competitive advantage in the form of tangible intellectual property? Or was it simply to generate, “indirect benefits?” Was the Shin Corp debacle a “blip” or does it reveal a systematic weakness in Singapore Inc capability to manage and mitigate risk in the regional investment strategy? Was MOE failure to tack down UNSW ASIA a “bridge too far” inspired by over-confidence? Or is it simply a set back that has a marginal impact on establishing Singapore as an education hub? I could really go on all day really – highlighting the uneven patches where history has been white washed no end!
What’s really happening here? Are we simply suffering from mass amnesia? Or has Al Qeada tampered with our water supply?
The truth of the matter is the vast majority of us: Don’t actually realize history is being continuously re-written. A clue to this phenomenon lies in “word creep,” which occurs either by social evolution or design – “word creep” as the meaning implies refers to the process how narrative is regularly changed and colored by conditional factors. A case in point is the word, “gay,” which once referred to a happy or joyous state of mind, but through specific usage, it’s lost its meaning and today assumes a totally different set of definitions that refers specifically to the sexual orientation a person.
The danger is: if we remain bovine to the corrosive effects of word and statement ‘creep.’ Eventually, our grasp of reality and meaning will simply leach away. Essentially, this is one way how history typically gets re-written most of the time. I don’t wish to come across as paranoid, but we may even wake up one day in a country that we hardly know! I am not joking and just to prove my kernel of a crack brained theory –let’s conduct a mini experiment. Now I am going to throw out a basket of words out and why don’t you tell me what they really mean – zero tolerance – war on terror – new and improved! – globalization – we don’t have a choice! – welfare is bad – hands out’s are demeaning- Asian values – rule based society – being a journalist (reporters) in Singapore is the hardest job in the world – if we don’t compete we will perish!
Something’s amiss right? Yes, I know. You ticked them all off mentally, but something is still missing – you can’t put your finger on it – the “real” meaning that is, can you?
Now the reason why you can’t really pin point what those words actually mean is because they aren’t real words – they being “rewritten, rehashed, reconstituted or reduxed.” Call it what you like, but that’s what’s happened. That’s to say they are “bag words or statements,” which carry with them a whole range of ideologies, philosophies and even schools of thoughts. In a sense by attempting to reduce them into convenient sound bites what’s really happened is these words have been reduced to a sort of pidgin language that imposes certain thoughts on how one should make sense of information.
The purpose of “bag words and statements” is simply to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper of the devotees of the marketing manifesto, party political order or an institution. It’s a creature of convenience like acronyms, mottos, slogans, mission statement. Or anything that is based on reductionism – take the word, “new and improved,” for example what does it really mean?
It doesn’t mean “new” and “improve” as much as it’s trying very hard to stimulate your appetite to consume. The insidious aspect of bag words is it renders all other modes of though impossible except perhaps only – one or two at most. The whole idea smacks of zoo keeping, but that doesn’t detract from the fact much of how bag words operate is designed primarily to instill behavioral discipline – it could be a cue to buy, to stimulate a need or even induce a craving, but in every case bag words are one of the most effective tools in re-writing historical accounts. Adolf Hitler used it when he coined the ideal of the Aryan man and lebensraum.
The main and operating principle that allows bag words to work so well on our psyche are eerily similar to the mode of speech needed to communicate with automated systems. First, the most distinguishing mark that it uses to convey meaning is through the economy of grammar and regularity. Take the word “war on terror” for instance.
Let’s just spent sometime spreading it out and de-constructing it – what is the sum of all your fears? Is it terminal cancer? No! According to metaphor coined by the Bush administration, it’s a man who wears naan bread on his head, lives in a cave and drives a donkey to work. I am not trying to water down the threat of terrorism, only I am trying to illustrate how it’s possible to use a set of “bag words” to amplify a threat to ridiculous proportions! Truth remains, more Americans are killed each year from artery clogging hamburgers and lousy roads signage than Osama Bin Laden could possibly kill in a hundred life times. That’s a fact! And I am prepared to challenge anyone statistically who tells me otherwise. Now let’s turn our attention to the “war” – did an Islamic superpower take out the world trade center? Nope, just a bunch of confused people who believed that if they ploughed into a skyscraper they would end up with 71 virgins in paradise – doesn’t matter if all of them happened to be vintage 80 year nuns from the order of perpetual chastity – these are just minor details that bag words users typically don’t feel the need to highlight.
The Second way in which, history is re-written is by often giving a very subtle expression to every meaning that a firm, party or institution could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings. Take the statement, “if we do not compete, we will perish.” Or a better one would be this, “if we introduce welfare, then people wouldn’t be motivated to work or take responsibility for their life!” Usually when these words are used the pronunciation and cadence deployed is causal and short, so as not to minimize the number of echoes in the audiences mind. Again the rationale of those statements are predicated on the evolutionary belief that we would all benefit from a dose of cave man I knock you out and you knock me out competitive theory i.e survival of the fittest. But hold on a second, all species eventually die off don’t they? Well at least 99.9% of them do, so where does competitive anything fit in the larger scale of continuous improvement anything? Isn’t the whole idea of “compete and perish” redundant? So what the hell are they talking about?
Your guess is as good as mine.
While I remind myself, I am not yet a cynic, I really should be. Only because real dangers exist when history is continually re-written without either the possessors or those who are trying to make sense of modern sound bites today – I am not for one moment suggesting, there is an evil organization out there out to control every aspect of our thought processes. Only it’s the most expedient, economical and effective solution to a very difficult problem; facing the truth head on! I for one am inclined to believe, it’s a temptation that man is ill suited to resist in this age.
History is indeed fragile – what will cyber archeologist discover when they sieve through the Singapore internet in the distant future?
Will they successfully unearth the Mr Brown saga – Shin Corp and UNSW Asia fiasco -Wee Shu Min incident intact? Along with countless other miles stones that has shaped the contours of the Singapore narrative? I don’t doubt for one moment, those archeologist will do roughly the same as those before them – piecing together, forming and shaping their impression of the known truth in the early half of the 21st century. Only as they winnow through much of the electronic dust which we presently term internet chatter in virtual excavation sites like either the Intelligent Singaporean or Aaron Ng’s blog. What will they glimpse from our long-dead civilization? What voices and libations will they hear? And what will be scooped out of the gunk Singapore internet’s enduring eloquence? Perhaps the truth or maybe only muffled murmurs.
Its something to consider very seriously when you next blog or post a message – you may just be writing our history.
[A Brief History Lesson:
Two hundred years ago, during the battle of Aboukir. When Napoleon’s troops were strengthening the foundation in Fort Julian on the West Bank of the Nile, French soldiers unearth part of a large stela, incised with writing in three different scripts. The stone is a fragment of an ancient slab proclaiming the “Memphis Decree” issued by Ptolemy in 196 BC. One of the scripts was Greek, and it stated in its concluding paragraph that all three texts carried the same message. Since the other two scripts were hieroglyphic and cursive demotic respectively, it was evident that this was a discovery of great importance; a key had been found to the history of ancient Egypt, till then hieroglyphic had remain indecipherable – the Rosetta stone had been discovered!
In the year 20482 (strangelands aka brotherhood time) during the Reign of Padishah (earth time: 2003) – a series of automated capsules christened as the “Rosetta’s” – was successfully launched by the brotherhood into the infinity of cyber space. In the sealed sarcophagus, the entire repository of the brotherhood press is stored in 49 languages and formatted in 62 versions. On the aft section of each Tritium powered capsule is a replica plaque similar to the version mounted on Voyager 1 blasted into deep space by mankind on September 5, 1977. To date, 2 such repository robots or “library drones” as they are often called, have been successfully launched into cyber space – the first of the “Rosetta” modules serial no: 00001 ERT is scheduled to return home to earth and re-enter the Singaporean cyberspace in 2999 AD (earth time). It has been pre-programmed to broadcast in 59 known languages “we come in peace” followed by 30 variants of binary codex / machine language – “We shall never forget.” – The Book of Ages, The Chronicler]
(By Scholar boy & Harphoon – Socio / Political – EP 992002- The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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