Quoting the old man again:
“..he who would foresee what has to be, should reflect on what has been, for everything that happens in the world at any time has a genuine resemblance to what happened in ancient times…” – Machiavelli, in his Discourses
In other words, history matters. More than you could possibly imagine. History is also a trap, waiting to be sprung by the most careful of unfortunate doomed readers.
When reading an old book always ask, who are the real intended audience? What is the level of education and culture expected of the reader. This isn’t idle guesswork, typically clues abound through a book pointing to who the real audience are.
Being an outsider looking in stop thinking from your own assumptions, your own beliefs and habits. Why should anyone give a damn about your certitudes, your beliefs, what you think is true, what you are certain is true?
Step outside what YOU know, look at things through the eyes of the person whose words you are reading. Try to imagine, play act, pretend you are in the same room with them sharing a cup of coffee, try to imagine them as real human beings, with a history, loves, hates. Imagine them being in love, being spurned by their lover, drinking their coffee and eating a boiled egg, imagine them with a headache sitting down. Imagine them as real human beings, then imagine their finances, their family history, their religion creed and beliefs, their eccentricities. You may not know of these things, but try to… taste the personality of the author.
Then imagine that there is something they want someone to know, but that someone isn’t necessarily you. But what they are trying to say is vital to you. You are, in effect, a spy. And in reading their book you are – imagine yourself – a detective.
So, let me be crude for a second. E-books are useful, and E-books are shite. They are both at the same time.
I have a friend who is in the habit of downloading e-books to the exclusion of print books. I really dig this habit, myself, I’ve got a huge pdf library on just about everything imaginable.
But there is something you should be careful about, when dealing with E-books on controversial and historical topics. It is easy to modify history electronically, by omission. With a print book spread over thousands of libraries, even if you can get it pulled out of print, somewhere, some how, a copy is floating around.
The only way to censor a print book is at the source, fresh off the printing press. Examples; take the case of one of Professor Anthony Sutton’s last books, he was unable to get it printed anywhere in the world except in Australia and at the end of the print run unfortunately the whole run, thousands of books, simply disappeared from a loading dock at the Australian port. Also rumor has it that Peter Wright’s, author of Spy Catcher former MI5 chief of counter-intelligence, had an entire run of a book of his pulped by Thatcher’s government. Also the defector from Israel’s Mossad, Victor Ostrovsky, almost had the entire Canadian run of his book by By Way Of Deception pulped at the insistence of the Israeli Government.
But in general, a printed book is secure. No one may read it for decades but somewhere, some how, someone will stumble on it. Short of a very expensive recall campaign or systematic low-level process of theft from individual libraries and bookstores (something that I observed in Idries Shah’s Secret Lore of Magic. Just about every library I visited from 1989 – 1997 had it missing from the shelves, present in the catalog, but missing from the shelf ) you just can’t make a physical book disappear that easily. With Amazon.com market pressures also frequently bring very rare and controversial works to light. Of course, at substantially inflated prices making them out of range of the casual researcher.
E-books and web pages are a different matter. Recent history can be quickly eradicated and erased in e-books floating around the net, and I am stumbling across evidence that they frequently are. I spent hours looking through the painstakingly OCR’s pdf copy of Carroll Quigley‘s Tragedy & Hope, you can find it on Scribd and e-Mule/Bearshare/Bittorrent etc. I have the printed first edition, and believe you me there are hundreds of deleted sentences, words, in a few places full paragraphs. Basically every statement of Quigley that had a pejorative tone regarding Radical Conservatives had been deleted, and a somewhat honest ellipsis (…) left. Also parenthetical statements ‘clarifying’ Quigley‘s remarks regarding the Eastern Establishment (which are pretty damn obvious for anyone with above a 12th grade reading level) abound.
In short, there is obvious ideological bias tainting the pdf copy of Tragedy & Hope and this will lead people cutting and pasting quotes from it to inadvertently either obfuscate Quigley’s original intent and bias (and peddling another’s) or in some cases butcher the actual meaning of Quigley’s paragraphs.
2. Weeks ago I posted a quote from the Club of Rome‘s First Global Revolution. A commentator here wisely called me out on it. Basically I had cut-pasted the quote from other on-line sources quoting the work. Egg on my face eh?
I did not checking the citation because I have a couple of editions of the book physically in my possession and distinctly recalled reading the damning quote. And I did, however the version peddled on line is actually a few separate quotes pasted together with ellipses that conceal the fact that the quotes are separated by a few pages. The quote is still damning, though the effect is diluted when shown in its proper context. When read in its proper context an even richer level of meaning is evident. It is always best to see what an author actually means in context. There are shades of meaning always.
But more insidiously, looking deeper into it, I’ve found that the pdf copies of First Global Revolution are tainted. There are pages missing. I’m not telling you which ones, that’s your exercise. And I’m not saying believe me, after all. “let the buyer beware” – but the pdf copies that I found have missing pages and that is that.
When on-line texts, even pdf’s that look like page by page direct reproductions, have omissions, if you skim them without reference to the print copies, you will miss vital things.
The Devil’s in the Bloody Details.
Look, there is history, vital history, written in the margins of books that we should have read in school, but were never exposed to. Some of these books are memoirs of movers and shakers, statesmen, generals, rebels, presidents, advisers – far from crack-pot conspiracy theorists, in cases first hand accounts of the motives and intents of people who helped create history itself.
Some of these statements are small parenthetical statements, small slips of the pen, little three word cast-offs that you really, really, have to read carefully. That many people simply will not read carefully. Sometimes volumes of history are simply alluded to in a few words so subtle that unless you are attentively reading, and not skimming, their importance will be lost on you.
Worded, they are, in a rather refined, technical, or aristocratic language whose subtle connotation is usually not taught in schools today. Unless, of course, you are an English or History graduate student: and even then. It is good to speak plainly but if you really want to be the master of your own life, your own thoughts, and your own language, you damn well had better know how to read non-plain, and obtuse, language.
There are people who know the art of knowing to whom they speak. These people have been educated in, and reared with, an awareness of, and sensitivity to, the Station and class of those to whom they speak.
In other words, they almost instinctively know how to condescend (look up the original definition of the word) – to us – they know second nature how to phrase a factual truth in a way that can be grasped by us, according to our usual assumptions, while also phrasing them in a way that will be interpreted differently by people reared in the norms of their own class, caste, and station.
This is the art of subtle allusions, there are shades of connotations to words that will be easily understood by some, and not by others. There is a way of using the shades of connotation to words to literally say something truthfully, but in a way that will cause one to arrive to completely different conclusions.
We all have lives to lead, it is true though that since TV and radio were invented the way that we spend our free time has changed. Ordinary everyday people used to spend far more time in the past reading than they do today. Since the last generation for whom this was real is almost dead, the implications of this are sometimes lost on we, the young, we the living. Chances are if you are reading my blog you are one of those luck folks who still reads. Good. Do not give it up, knowledge is always power, of course half knowledge may be a dangerous thing to us, a sharp blade with which we can nick our necks, seeking more knowledge is an empowering act.
But only if we remain aware of our biases, our prejudices, our habits, our assumptions, and actively question them. To quote a friend of mine:
“Everything in life’s a working hypothesis, and then you die and it becomes fact.”