“It is far better for a man to go wrong in freedom than to go right in chains” — Thomas H. Huxley
The Internet and Tolstoy’s Vision of History
The digital age brings with it the promise of indefinite memory. This will bring about a different approach to history.
In his great epic novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy sets out his own view of history. Drawing on the analogy of integration from mathematical calculus, Tolstoy skillfully explains how historians’ use of discrete events and personalities to explain the continuous flow of human history is doomed to fail. The ocean of individual actions that shapes the course of history leaves no place for grand leaders like Napoleon, who are simply swept along by the currents in the ocean. Moreover, he believes our search for historical causes is futile. Only when we reduce the influences of free will on history’s course to the infinitesimal can we convince ourselves of the complexity and inaccessibility of causes, and instead seek the laws governing history.
- Cyworld, Protest, and Politics: Yong Joon Hyoung and the Story of a Korean Innovator, Pando Daily, July 8, 2012
- Hiroshi Mikitani: Lunch with FT, Financial Times, June 15, 2012
The Age, 24 April 1905, on Japan:
The crowning victory of Mukden was won, first and foremost, because the statesmen of Japan had the spirit and the backbone to declare war at their own hour; it was won because Japan was united in the attainment of national aims and shrank from no sacrifice to secure it; because the moral forces within the nation doubled and trebled material strength; because all was prepared, weighed, studied, known; because the shortcomings of the enemy, which were many, were recognized and profited by; because a general staff, framed on the best existing model, was able to direct all forces to a common end; because each soldier and seaman knew and understood the part he had to play, and played it whole-heartedly for his country, regardless of his own unimportant fate; and, last but not least, because the offensive, in naval war, was the beginning and middle and end of national strategy.
- Ethan Zuckerman, A Small World After All?, The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2012
- Mark Pagel, Does globalization mean we will become one culture?, BBC Future, 23 May 2012
E. M. Forster’s short science fiction The Machine Stops describes a world in which almost all humans have lost the ability for first-hand experience and direct company with each other, instead relying on the ‘Machine’ for all bodily and spiritual needs. It is a chilling story about the role of technology on our daily lives. As if we are evolving into Forster’s world, Eric Schmidt challenges us to take our eyes off ‘that thing’ for at least one hour a day. From his commencement speech at Boston University on May 20, 2012:
Remember to take at least one hour a day and turn that thing off. Do the math, 1/24th. Go dark. Shut it down. Learn where the OFF button is. Take your eyes off the screen, and look into the eyes of the that person you love. Have a conversation–a real conversation–with the friends who make you think, with the family who makes you laugh. Don’t just push a button saying I “Like” something. Actually tell them. What a concept! Engage with the world around you … feel … and taste … and smell … and hug what’s there, right in front of you–not what’s a click away. Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor. Life is not a series of status updates. Life is not about your friend count–it’s about the friends you can count on. Life is about who you love, how you live, it’s about who you travel through the world with. Your family, your collaborators, your friends. Life is a social experience first, and the best aspects of that experience are not lonely ones–they are spent in the company of others. Our modern landscape has changed, yes–but our humanity will always remain, and that, above all else, is what makes us who we are.
As the Airbus A320 touched down at Taoyuan airport, the vibration and noise of the landing jolted me awake. My mobile phone was playing a song by Taiwanese actress-singer Sylvia Chang Ai-chia: ” In 1948, I left my dearest beloved … if I knew then that my departure would mean 40 years, and if time could be reversed, I’d like to say, I don’t want to go.”
It made me think again about all the changes Taiwan and mainland China have experienced in the last half-century or so. Continue reading