The Present Side of History

Over a millennium ago, Marcus Aurelius (of Roman Emperor fame) penned in his now famous Meditations, “every man’s life lies within the present, which is but a point of time; for the past is spent, and the future is uncertain.” Unfortunately, these wise words have been eschewed in the contemporary political arena.

Recently, while awaiting the Virginia General Assembly’s vote on the Equal Rights Amendment, Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy implored her colleagues to consider “Which side of history do you want to be on? The world is watching—your mothers, your sisters, your daughters.” Barack Obama frequently used this kind of rhetoric during his presidency, from his first inaugural address to his criticism of Vladimir Putin. Though this line of reasoning is commonly used to designate righteous acts, it is nothing more than a shallow rhetorical ploy.

When anyone brings up a right or wrong side of history, they are dealing with how a set of events are perceived or judged. Judging anything by any criteria is an act of human inference. Rather or not the descendants will infer that the ancestor’s actions were favorable or not has no bearing on rather those actions were actually beneficial to the ancestors. People in present times are forced to deal with the consequences of present times, not future beliefs. If any course of action is to be effective in achieving its aims, there has to be a firm adherence to facts, logic, and evidence. Looking back on the past can help provide these components but estimating sentiments that haven’t even occurred yet provides no serviceable information.

When a person regards their actions based on the consideration of a preferable side of history, they are making a decision based on how others will judge them rather than the effects of their actions. This may be a fine strategy for fostering solace but is an awful practice for ensuring well-being. Such a strategy calls for the decision maker to regard perception instead of proof. This entails objective unalterable factors such as facts, logic, evidence, etc. being disregarded for the subjective nature of people’s view. The problem lies in that the aforementioned factors will be affecting despite any particular view. One cannot undo what is true and/or proven based on an opinion. If the factors themselves are not dealt with, then any problem tied to said factors will remain and grow more convoluted.

The welfare of human beings rests on what is done in the present, not what may be thought in the future. Concerning oneself with the opinions of those who will reflect after the fact does not grant any clearer insight into pressing matters of the current times. The “Side of History” trope is an impractical thought process for decision making and ought be removed from serious discourse.

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