It's entertainment to us. We are out of US stocks. They are too expensive and too dangerous for our tastes. But we are in gold. Even there, whether it goes up or down hardly matters. We hold it as a store of value, not a speculation. In fact, we hope it drops below $1,000 - so we can buy more!
Meanwhile, yesterday, we did not say, like Henry Ford, that 'history is bunk.' It is not bunk. It often carries useful warnings. History tells us things that are true. But history never tells the whole Truth. And since a historical narrative excludes more than it includes, it may actually take the reader further away from Truth than closer to it.
From the earliest days of human life -- history was also a heroic narrative. The hero faced a challenge. The outcome was in doubt. And then, he managed to overcome it...and win the battle (girl...respect...money...whatever).
This is also the most common formula for all storytelling and also all advertising. It works for everything from piano lessons to Ben Hur. Confronting a problem...dandruff, thirst, dirty dishes, whatever... the hero of the story (who is the customer in advertising messages) emerges victorious. In advertising messages he meets the challenge by buying the product. He is a real man (Marlboro). He can please his wife (Viagra). He is successful (the Wall Street Journal). He gets rich. He drives a nice car. His gray hair is gone. His stomach has turned into rippled muscles. He finds Christ.
Of course, there is also the tragic hero, undone by his own character weakness...or by the gods...but that's another story!
Historical narratives follow the same basic form. They tell the tale of battles, wars, revolutions. This is the history they teach in schools. This is the history that people learn and repeat. And it needs people. Good guys and bad buys. Heroes and villains, winners and losers, protagonists and antagonists.
The hero is usually the leader of a group.
We humans are products of the Paleolithic period. Our brains were formed by many millennia in tribal, hunter-gatherer groups. In pre-civilized tribal societies, it was possible to 'know' things from personal experience and direct, first-person testimony. If a fellow tribesman told you there was an enemy tribe approaching the camp, you were in a fairly good position to judge the veracity and importance of the news. Nuances of voice, facial expression, tone, gesture...as well as the context, recent history, reputation and so forth...gave you the means to master the information in a reasonably reliable way. You looked for leadership. Fight? Run? The leader set the pace. Then, sitting around the campfire, perhaps men told tales of great leaders they had known or had heard tell of. They must have drawn inspiration and instruction from these tales, as we do today.
But come to the extended order of modern civilizations and the historical fact that the French army approached Brescia in 1512 is as empty of real information as a blank CD. It is a 'fact' but without enough context to make any sense of it. And even if you studied it more closely, following one of the many roots of the war to the siege and sacking of the town, your real knowledge of the event would probably take the usual form - with a hero, an antagonist, a decisive battle and a resolution.
Emotionally and aesthetically, the hero story is satisfying, like a good bout of sex or Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Pianissimo, fortissimo, crescendo, descrescendo... Like sex, the hero story begins with a two people...one pressing the attack, the other receiving it...a lot of moving around getting into position... the heat of battle...a climax...and a resolution. But the historical accounts don't usually tell us much about what really goes on. For those nuances, we are better off reading the diaries and letters from people who saw the action first hand and reported what they saw.
Niccolo Tartaglia was one of the 16th century's most brilliant mathematicians. He was born into such a modest family he had no family name, just a Christian name, Niccolo. He had a total of 14 days of schooling, in which he learned to read. The door open, he went through on his own. Among his other achievements, he was the first to translate Euclid's "Elements" into the Italian vernacular.
He was also a victim of the zombie wars of the 1450-1700 period. Those wars have more in common with today's wars against terror than with the world wars of the early 20th century. They were extremely costly; they transferred wealth, power and status from the people who earned it to the military units that took it from them. Leaders waged wars for their own reasons - hoping to carry off loot by the wagon-load. There were pointless and destructive from every other point of view.
Tartaglia describes what happen when he, his mother and his sister, took refuge in the cathedral of Brescia, when the city was sacked by French, German and Swiss mercenaries under the leadership of Gaston de Foix.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.