Escaping History

by wjw on April 30, 2013

At a panel at Eastercon— or perhaps it was the interview, I’m not sure– I made a statement that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

“If we ever succeed in populating other worlds,” I said, “the first thing they’ll do is lose interest in Earth history, because none of it will be relevant.”

Which seemed to shock a lot of history-loving SF fan to the core.  But consider: what if the past is not merely another country, it’s another solar system?  If the nations of Bozniagraphica-Nostra Patersdolf signed a treaty in 1649 with Gallicia-Alte-Markstein, what interest would that be to the doughty immigrants of Epsilon Eridani VII?

Of course I suppose that it’s possible to Learn From History, not that I’m sure anyone does.  But it seems to me that a close study of human psychology would produce the same warnings and truisms without having to anchor the knowledge to a lot of irrelevant data.

This was perhaps more obvious to me because I’m from a country where people go to escape their history.  My grandparents fled their country’s subjection to the Tsar of All the Russias.  Others fled feuds, the military draft, or economic despair.

The point is, if you live in America, you don’t have to hate the people from the next valley anymore.  In fact, you’ll have more in common with them than with practically anyone else.

Of course you can hate them if you want, but it’s a choice.  You don’t have two thousand years of history poisoning your relationship with the next valley, you don’t have all your relatives and neighbors demanding that you hate the next valley with all awful weight of history and expectation.  Here, if you hate your neighbors, it’s because you’re an American, and you choose that hatred freely.

In Genoa they have a saying: “Better a death in the family than a Pisan at the door.”  You don’t find sayings like that in this country.  And you won’t find them on Epsilon Eridani VII, either.

You might find a few oddballs studying Earth history for its richness and strangeness, but the rest will just get on with being Epsilonians, and making their new world.

David W. Goldman April 30, 2013 at 7:28 am

Why would the history of, say, Ancient Greece be any less relevant to a Epsilon Eridanist than it is to me, a 21st-century USAn?

Will the interwebs of Proxima Centauri no longer abide by Godwin’s law?

Erich Schneider April 30, 2013 at 3:04 pm

In Genoa they have a saying: “Better a death in the family than a Pisan at the door.” You don’t find sayings like that in this country. And you won’t find them on Epsilon Eridani VII, either.

This is a contrasting view to one I picked up in a talk William Gibson made some years ago where he spoke about one of his grandmothers in southwestern Virginia, who referred to everyone not from the immediate six-county-or-so area as a “Yankee” and not to be trusted fully.

I suppose one could see that as Americans creating their own unique prejudices over time. Perhaps the situation will be one where the Epsilonians who speak the same language and eat the same food as the intrepid pioneers who stepped off the ships at First Landing will think of the newcomers who arrived in the last fifty years as shiftless layabouts wrecking the economy and moral fiber of their societies.

James R. Strickland April 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

On the face of it, I have to disagree – history is as much about where we came from as who we are. However, the tension between those who think terran history is interesting vs those who think it’s irrelevant is pretty much the missing idea for a novel I backburnered some time ago. Thanks. 🙂


Dave Bishop April 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I just wonder if the Epsilonians will any longer qualify as humans.
Surely, the modifications that would have to be made to the human body to allow it to adapt to an alien environment (different gravity, atmospheric composition, radiation flux, microbiological environment etc., etc., etc.) would be so radical that the Epsilonians would, effectively, be a new species (?) Who knows how such a radically re-engineered being would view itself and its place in the Universe?
Of course, the Epsilonians might attempt to modify their environment to suit the human frame (and human aspirations) but I suspect that such an attempt might well end in disaster (for both colonists and new world). Planetary modification is not working out too well for us, is it? One thing is certain, if we push planetary modification much further, there will soon be no more humans – let alone Epsilonians!

wjw May 1, 2013 at 3:38 am

I’d argue that Greek ideas would survive longer than any study of the Greek history that produced them. (Already happened, pretty much. I suspect there are about twelve people on the planet who could explain the Peloponnesian War.)

While there are certainly people in the South who distrust or hate Yankees on principle, they’re getting older and dropping deader every day. We don’t have any prejudices that have survived as long as, say, the deadly conflicts between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. (Another piece of history that requires highly specialized knowledge to explain.)

Certainly the most entrenched hatred in North America was that directed against the American Indian— “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” was a sentiment that would have received general approval from the age of Cortes to fairly recently— but where’s that deadly prejudice now?

It’s not like we don’t hate. The U.S. was founded by Manicheans, and a lot of Americans have to have someone to hate— but the objects of hatred seem to shift around.

Mark Hughes May 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

The War between the United States and the Southern Confederate traitor states did cause a culture gap that’s still current on both sides, but it’s OUR history. Nobody much cares if your grandparents fought my grandparents in the old country, but when the immigrants have wars, we hold grudges.

But how recent is “history”? I recently had an awkward meeting with a business run by white South Africans and decided I can’t ethically do business with them. Maybe in another generation when all the apartheid-trained honkeys are dead.

The Epsilonians should be aware of the ugly way Tau Cetians enslaved the native spongebobs and be wary of them.

TomB May 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm

“The objects of hatred seem to shift around.” And we hates them for that.

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