Pandora’s Lesson for Earth

Thinking about the past through the eyes of one history wrongly treats the events of the past dualistically. How can two histories of the same event, told by different people, both be accurate? It is all too easy to study history in terms of “winners” and “losers” and those who were “right” or those who were “wrong.” This sort of thinking implies judgment and imparts bias on history. Understanding the histories of multiple perspectives allows for a better, more complete understanding of the events that happened in the past.

The popular saying the “history is written by the victors” proves problematic to gaining an unbiased account of what actually happened.[1]  Every civilization’s history is going to have biases; for example, the most detestable aspects of war will always be conveniently overlooked in the history books of the victors. It is, after all, only human nature to preserve ones self-image. When these histories are examined in isolation, they offer blatantly one-sided and erroneous accounts of the past. The only way to truly comprehend what happened requires the study of multiple histories. Nothing happens in isolation, so understanding multiple histories allows people to use their own judgment to create a more holistic understanding of history.

The best way to understand multiple histories is to experience them and learn about them simultaneously. This allows you to immerse yourself in the events of the past while learning the histories through the eyes of opposing sides. If everyone could understand the thought processes of every single party involved in historical events, cultural hostilities would be lessened and the world would be a better place. Jake Sully embodies this theory and spends months living a double life on Pandora, the extraterrestrial planet in Avatar.[2]  Jake is faced with two diametrically opposed views about Pandora. The US-backed military exploration of the planet plans to mine the vast deposits of a rare and lucrative element known as “unobtanium.” As his avatar, Jake is tasked with coercing the native Na’vi into leaving their home so Jake’s employers can reach a large deposit directly beneath their ancestral home. While living with the Na’vi, Jake comes to understand the interconnected nature of the ecosystem on Pandora and learns to appreciate the life forces of everything on the planet. It is at this point that Jake has reached a state of understand of both the human and Na’vi points of view. Jake would not have come to this state of understanding by simply accepting the corporation’s views. Regardless of Jake’s Disney-esque decision to side with the “good guys,” he was free to decide for himself who the “good guys” were and that is what is important.

In our modern, fast paced world, people turn to their TVs and radio shows to tell them what to think. This would not be problematic if every show offered balanced and unbiased reports. The increasingly bipartisan nature of the media furthers the public’s acceptance of an incomplete version of events. In other words, we even “write the history books” of the present in a biased and incomplete manner. Historians and the media alike have a social and moral obligation to offer complete and unbiased accounts of what has happened in the past and what happens in the present. Until this ideal is achieved, it is essential to consider multiple histories in order to fill in the gaps of any singular, biased history.

[1] Attributed to Winston Churchill, but of unknown origin. Similar to Samuel Butler’s quote, “God cannot alter the past, though historians can.”

[2] Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009. Film.

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