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 "Holier than thou" and "Not quite the devil"

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Jamie Clubb
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PostSubject: "Holier than thou" and "Not quite the devil"   Mon Aug 04, 2008 3:10 pm

Okay, scepticism is the practice of critical thought. We are not governed by politic correctness. We try to be fair in our research, although we acknowledge that we each have our own opinions and are just as susceptible as the next person to confirmation bias. A good way to keep your research and mind set to "Objective" is to play Devil's Advocate. What have you got to lose? It's a bit like trying to resolve an argument. You have to truly listen to the opposing view and do your best to empathize. Likewise when you are researching history you have to look at the evidence, take matters into context, switch off the 21st century opion and then, once more, look at the evidence.

By doing this we have discovered many things about the "immortal" mortals in our history. We have found that great people are rarely saints and some terrible people are not completley bad. We have also found that some people who were once revered as great didn't really deserve that title and people who were regarded as devils perhaps deserve a bit of our sympathy. There are extreme examples and then there are shades of grey. This is what researching history is all about.

Here's some thoughts I have had regarding certain historical figures:

Vlad Tepes - the vague inspiration behind Bram Stoker's Dracula and a legend in his own right. The guy was clearly an expert in propaganda. His rebellion against the Turks needed to cement an "evil" reputation in order to battle the overwhelming odds of the Ottoman empire, but was he really a despot? Was he any worse than, say Che Guevara or Salvatore Guiliano? Most Romanians revere him as a freedom fighter as these two very flawed rebels - who were both responsible for the deaths of innocent people - are celebrated today. There is no credible evidence that Vlad drank blood or was particularly cruel to his people (in the context of the time). He certainly used fearsome methods like impaling to frighten off his enemies, but he got the original idea from them in the first place!

Richard the Lionheart - England's great warrior king who led the crusades to the holy land. Richard I shares Henry V's reputation for bringing England glory through war. He may have been brave, but he did very little for this country. He didn't speak a word of English and didn't even spend a year in the country that celebrates him almost a millenium later. Instead he exhausted our treasury in order to fight an unwinnable war in a distant land - sound familiar? He left his brother, John, in charge who ended up becoming perhaps this country's most hated ruler. Ironically in hindsight, John most definitely did a better job of ruling than his crusading bro.
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PostSubject: Re: "Holier than thou" and "Not quite the devil"   Mon Aug 04, 2008 6:19 pm

History is my weakspot Sad

However I love playing devils advocate with people, unfortunately, even with friends, this tends to get their heckles up and they go down my throat!

Way of the world I suppose..........

regards,

Den.

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Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism - and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.
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Jamie Clubb
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PostSubject: Re: "Holier than thou" and "Not quite the devil"   Tue Aug 05, 2008 6:20 pm

I love history. Science is a huge weak spot of mine, but I am doing my best to rectify it. This is another reason why I like Shermer's work, as he shows that the same level of reasonining and processes are behind good history that are behind good science.

Back on topic...

My point with this post is not to say that "Good" people are bad and "Bad" people are bad, but rather to look at them as humans rather than as saints and devils. By being objective and playing devil's advocate we learn more. In fact, I can respect an individual more when I can see their human side. If someone is presented as totally infalliable I become suspicious. Even traditional myths are full of flawed heroes. That is part of their appeal. Likewise when we see the good side of people who have been traditionally caste as evil we can see that there is hope in human nature and we can also begin to look at the nature of errors, as well as try to understand the environment or circumstances of where the individual operated.
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